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Bars not liable for over serving in Florida

Under Florida law, there's only two reasons why a bartender could become liable for injuries or damages caused by a drunk driving crash.

<p>71-year-old Charles Lewis</p>

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WTSP) -- He was sought after for days. Now a hit-and-run suspect that killed a mother and seriously hurt a deputy over the weekend has been caught. His bond is set at $101,000.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said 71-year-old Charles Lewis made a full confession. He told Polk deputies he was at a bar on Friday night, where he had four beers and then drove home. He said he knew he hit something, but didn't know what.

This story left people on social media with a lot of questions. Some people commented they hope the bar is held responsible as well, for letting him leave after drinking.

Under Florida law, there's only two reasons why a bartender could become liable for injuries or damages caused by a drunk driving crash: For serving alcohol to a minor and for serving someone who's addicted to alcohol.

Just because they’re not legally required to stop intoxicated customers from getting into their cars doesn’t mean they shouldn’t.

The bartenders at Linksters in Highland City believe in going the extra mile to stop drunk driving. About a year ago, that belief was tested when one of their customers had too much to drink to drive home safely.

“The guy was asked several times if we could get him a ride, if we could get him a cab, if we could do something for him, let us call somebody for him,” Managing Partner Eric “Bro” Belvin said.

The man apparently didn't want their help and walked out of the bar.

People who were there that night said the bartender even followed him out here to the parking lot and tried to convince him not to get into his car and drive away. He didn't listen, so she felt like she had no choice but to call 911.

“He is very intoxicated and refused any help, refused a ride,” she told the dispatcher.

Deputies caught up with the man, now-former Assistant State Attorney Kyle McNeal, just down the road at a McDonald's and arrested him for drunk driving. That bartender may have saved a life, but legally she didn't have to go that far to stop him.

“No matter what happened, he made it home safely, and everybody else made it home safely too,” Belvin said.

Belvin said his bartenders go through an alcohol awareness training program in the hopes they can stop drunk driving crashes before they happen.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving supports laws that hold bars responsible, because they say it reduces drunk driving crashes. Opponents say those laws take the blame off the drunk driver.


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