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Dram Shop Lawsuit Seeks Bartender Accountability for Fatal Florida DUI

The brother of a Central Florida man killed in a DUI accident is suing two bars and their employees for serving alcohol to a man who was known to be habitually addicted – the same man who after leaving those establishments got behind a wheel drunk and killed his brother.

The claim is based on Florida’s dram shop law, which is codified in F.S. 768.125. Florida’s dram shop liability law is less favorable to plaintiffs than statutes in other states, but it does allow compensation under a certain set of circumstances. Although there are some states in which bars, restaurants and other places that serve alcohol can be liable just for serving to someone who appears to be intoxicated, Florida only allows liability in DUI cases where:

  • The driver was served alcohol despite being under the age of 21;
  • The driver was known to be habitually addicted to alcohol.

Both scenarios of course assume that the injury or damage was caused by or resulted from the intoxication of such a minor or person. 

According to The Lakeland Ledger, the allegedly drunk driver (he hasn’t been convicted in criminal court as of this writing) had been served alcohol at two bars just before the November 2015 crash that killed a 26-year-old motorcyclist in the suburb of Mulberry.

Victim was riding his motorcycle around 11:15 p.m. when the defendant, operating a pickup truck, failed to slow or attempt to avoid him as he approached from directly behind. Pickup truck driver rear-ended the motorcyclist and then did not stop to render aid, as required by law. The motorcyclist was discovered by a passerby, transported to a local hospital and died. Authorities later traced the defendant to his home, where he admitted he thought he had struck someone. He had already taken his truck into a local mechanic to hide the visible damage from the fatal collision.

Defendant told deputies he remembered after consuming five drinks at the second bar falling asleep while driving, feeling an impact on his truck and then waking up in his home. He now faces charges of leaving the scene of an accident involving death and tampering with physical evidence – both felonies that carry a collective maximum penalty of 35 years in prison.

As for the two bars, the owner of one told a reporter the driver was not there the night of the crash and had not been there in several years (a fact disputed by plaintiff). The owner of another said he couldn’t comment, as he’d only just received the complaint.

Florida dram shop claims must meet a high standard of proof in order to prevail, especially if the driver in question is old enough to legally drink. It can be difficult to prove not only that the driver was “habitually addicted to alcohol,” but also that the person who served the driver knew or should have known that.

In this case, the driver was reportedly a neighbor of at least one of the bartenders and was a regular at the establishment. Both of those elements could work in plaintiff’s favor, but it’s still a high threshold. Such cases should only be trusted to an experienced injury lawyer.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

Lawsuit blames XYZ bar, American Legion for 2015 death of Mulberry motorcyclist, Nov. 15, 2016, By John Chambliss, The Lakeland Ledger

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