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Are Florida Hosts Responsible for Overserving Their Guests?

When Florida residents or their children attend a gathering at someone else's house, they generally are focused on having a good time -- not on who is criminally or civilly liable if tragedy strikes. The recent case of a North Carolina couple shows what can go wrong. The couple was found not guilty of aiding and abetting drinking by underage guests at a wedding reception at their home last year. However, they are still facing civil liability.

In this case, an 18-year-old young man was killed in a drunk driving accident after leaving the reception where photos of the event showed minors consuming alcohol. He had more than twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system. The young man's parents have also filed a lawsuit against the prominent physician and his wife who hosted the event.

State laws vary regarding who can be held liable when people are injured or killed or cause injury to others because they were overserved. Dram shop laws throughout the country hold establishments such as bars and restaurants legally responsible for allowing patrons to drink too much and then leave, possibly to get behind the wheel of a car.

However, "social host" laws extend this responsibility to people who serve alcohol in their home or other location. In some cases, hosts can also be held responsible for the actions of anyone whose intoxication results in injury or worse. In other states, including Florida, the social host law applies primarily to drinking by minors.

Under Florida law, a person who furnishes or sells alcohol to someone who is of legal drinking age is not liable for damage or personal injury caused by the person's intoxication unless he or she "knowingly serves a person habitually addicted to the use of any or all alcoholic beverages."

Of course, each situation presents its own unique set of circumstances. Even when people are not considered criminally responsible for their actions, they may be able to be held civilly liable for contributing to the death or injury of someone. If you or someone you love was harmed as the result of being overserved, it's best to determine what your legal options are for holding the appropriate people accountable.

Source: FindLaw, "Social Host Liability," accessed Aug. 06, 2015

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