Florida Dram Shop Laws

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 What Is A Liquor License?

A liquor license is a legal document that allows a business to sell or serve alcoholic beverages in the state in which they are located. Liquor laws are strictly regulated by the federal government and state government, as well as local governments. These licenses regulate:

  • The cost of alcoholic beverages;
  • Where specifically alcohol can be sold;
  • How much alcohol can be sold to how many people;
  • Who is allowed to buy alcohol; and
  • Exactly when alcohol can be served.

The process of obtaining a liquor license is considerably extensive, as well as time-consuming. The application itself can be expensive, depending on where you are opening your business. Additionally, it is common for towns and cities to limit the number of establishments that are allowed to use these licenses at one time, which is referred to as a quota.

The first step in applying for a liquor license would be submitting your application to your city’s government. Generally speaking, it will be reviewed in a meeting that is open to the public. Citizens who attend this town meeting have the right to voice their opinions of the application, as well as discuss it with the town council.

Once the local government approves of the application, it is submitted to the state for review. Ultimately, if the state government approves of the application, a liquor license will be awarded to the restaurant or business. However, not every application for a business license is approved. This is especially true for liquor licenses because the laws governing alcohol are considerably rigorous. To reiterate, if a jurisdiction has met their quota for businesses that can sell alcohol, the application can be rejected.

Additionally, several local and state officials review each application; as such, if one element is out of place, there could be a negative impact. An example of this would be how if a business has records of overdue taxes or fees, it is less likely that they will be able to obtain a liquor license. At the very least, these facts could seriously delay the process of being awarded with the license.

Because every state has its own liquor laws, every state requires a different license. There are areas in which a standard “liquor license” is accepted, which can encompass all types of alcohol sales specific to that state. However, it is more common that a license will distinguish whether a business can sell alcohol that is to be consumed on the premises, or off the premises.

Additionally, cities frequently separate liquor from other alcohol sales. An example of this would be how if a restaurant only serves beer and wine, they may need a Beer and Wine License as opposed to an actual liquor license. Some states require a specific category of liquor licenses depending on the nature of the business. Clubs, hotels, and restaurants may have a specific category of licenses, as well as companies that deliver alcohol.

Liquor licenses are often referred to when speaking about the operations of bars and restaurants. Retail stores selling alcohol such as liquor stores, supermarkets, and convenience stores are also subjected to liquor licenses, more specifically a Retail License.

Does Florida Have A Dram Shop Law?

A dram shop law imposes liability on drinking establishments, such as bars and taverns, who serve alcohol to patrons who are already visibly and/or obviously intoxicated. These laws provide that the drinking establishment in question may be required to pay damages to third parties who are injured as a result of their over-serving. Additionally, while serving alcohol to minors is already illegal, dram shop laws place additional penalties on bars that serve alcohol to minors.

Florida does have a dram shop law; however, it is unlike most dram shop laws in the sense that it almost completely restricts the liability of establishments selling and serving alcohol. This makes Florida’s dram shop law considerably limited in terms of scope and application.

Under Florida law, individuals or businesses who sell alcohol will generally not be held liable for damages or injuries caused by a drunk person who they sold alcohol to. This is especially true for liquor stores, because it is difficult to prove that the establishment was the actual cause of any injuries sustained by a third party.

However, Florida businesses are held liable under two exceptions to this rule:

  1. The Sale Of Alcohol To A Minor: Florida bars and taverns will be held strictly liable for injuries caused by the tender of alcohol to a person who is under 21 years of age. “Strictly liable” means that the employee does not need to have any knowledge that the person was a minor at the time that they sold the alcoholic beverage in order to be held accountable; and
  2. The Sale Of Alcohol To A Person Who Is Known To Be “Habitually Addicted” To Alcohol: Similarly, establishments will be held liable if they serve alcohol to a person who is known to have a history of addiction to alcohol. Courts have held that such people create a “foreseeable risk of injury,” because they lack the capability to make responsible decisions regarding drinking alcohol.

If a drinking establishment cannot be held liable under civil law, there may be other repercussions according to Florida’s criminal laws. An example of this would be how if the business owner was negligent or reckless in serving or selling alcohol, criminal charges may be brought against them.

What Happens When Liquor Laws Are Violated?

There are a number of regulations and laws that a business must follow when they possess a liquor license. An example of this would be how once a business has acquired a liquor license, they must maintain and renew that license regularly. Severing or selling alcohol without a valid license can result in the loss of the business, or jail time. Additionally, when renewing a license, a business may need to pay additional fees.

Consequences for violating liquor laws may include:

  • Selling a type of alcohol that is not covered by the license;
  • Selling alcohol to an underage person;
  • Bartenders over serving customers;
  • Allowing open containers to leave the premise; and
  • Allowing employees to drink excessively after their shift.

When a business violates the terms of their liquor license, they will receive an accusation, which is a formal document informing the business owner of the laws that were violated. This document requires the owner to attend a hearing with the state’s alcohol controlling agent, after which a judge will determine if the terms of the licenses were actually violated and whether any disciplinary actions should be taken.

If a judge finds that a business has violated the terms of the license, they may impose a series of consequences on the business. A found violation generally results in the revocation of a business’s liquor license, which can sometimes be permanent. An example of this would be how it is common for a restaurant selling alcohol to anyone under the age of 21 to lose their license forever.

However, the business may have their license restored after they have met certain conditions. Additionally, fines and fees may be included, or they may be the only disciplinary action that a judge imposes.

Do I Need A Lawyer For Help With Florida Dram Shop Laws?

Whether you are the person who was injured, the person who was served alcohol, or the institution that served the alcohol, dram shop violations are serious matters. You should consult with a Florida business attorney who can help you prepare your case, should legal representation be needed in court.

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