Dram Shop Act Doesn’;t Always Protect Underage Drinkers

Posted on August 29, 2008

The Dram Shop Act begins with the ancient word “dram” that refers to a unit of weight equal to 1/8 of an ounce in apothecaries’; weight.  A dram shop became known as a place where liquor was sold. 

Generally, dram shop laws today refer to the liability of any establishment that sells alcohol to a minor or to someone who is visibly intoxicated, and then causes death or injury to a third party.

They are used to sue adults who knowingly allow teenage parties at their home where liquor is involved.

In Florida, the Dram Shop Act statute says that a person who sells or provides alcohol to an underage person, may be liable for injury or damage resulting from that intoxicated minor’;s actions. 

But it doesn’;t always protect minors who are served alcohol, become intoxicated then injured and decide to sue. 

In one case, underage twin brothers, James and Jon Hetherly, sued Sawgrass Tavern Inc.  The two underage teens had some drinks at a tavern, then got into a fight with a co-worker.

Later, the twins went to the co-worker’;s house, opened his front door and let themselves in.  They accosted the co-worker in his bedroom, striking him with a beer bottle.  The co-worker defended himself with a knife. 

One of the twins wound up on the hospital with knife injuries. The twins eventually pled guilty to burglary and aggravated battery. 

The twins turned around and sued the tavern for damages they claimed were covered under the Dram Shop Act.

But the court rejected the twins’; argument because they were involved in a forcible felony. 

The twins were out of luck because the statute says you cannot use the Dram Shop Act if  to sue for damages for personal injury if you were injured while involved in a forcible felony. 

Any parents who want to cite the law to sue on behalf of their children, will find no sympathy from the judge.

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