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Exploring Third-Party Liability in Florida Drunk Driving Injury Lawsuits

Drunk driving remains one of the leading causes of serious car accidents resulting in injury or death. Florida is a no-fault state when it comes to auto insurance, but if you meet the “serious injury threshold,” as outlined in F.S. 627.737, you can collect more than just personal injury protection (PIP) benefits by pursuing action against the at-fault driver. What many drunk driving victims don’t realize is that in addition to this, they may have the option of a third-party liability claim. 

While it’s true drunk drivers are generally the only ones criminally charged, civil liability is different. Third parties can be accountable in civil court for the negligence and even criminal conduct of someone else if they breach a duty of care that in turn allowed the injurious incident to occur.

In Florida drunk driving cases, such third party defendants may include:

The owner of the vehicle. This can based on either a theory of negligent entrustment or vicarious liability (the latter meaning there is no requirement to prove the owner was negligent because cars are considered a dangerous instrumentality and owners are generally responsible when they permit someone to drive who in turn is negligent).

The employer of the driver. This too could be based on either a theory of direct negligence (negligent hiring, negligent retention, negligent supervision) or vicarious liability. In both cases, we need to show the driver was acting in the course and scope of employment. If so, the legal doctrine of respondeat superior (Latin for “let the master answer”) can apply.

The vendor who sold alcohol to the drunk driver. This is referred to as a dram shop lawsuit, and they’re tough sells in Florida. Unlike other states that allow liability claims in cases where establishments served a patron was visibly intoxicated, Florida only allows such actions under two circumstances. The first is that the patron-turned-drunk-driver was under the age of 21 and therefore was illegally served alcohol. The second is if the establishment knew or should have known the patron was habitually addicted to alcohol. It’s pretty easy to prove a defendant served an underage patron, but trying to prove what bar or restaurant staffers knew about someone’s alcohol dependency is more difficult (but not impossible).

Social host who served alcohol. Like dram shop lawsuits, these claims are not easy. However, they can be won. Take for example the 1999 ruling by Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal in Trainor v. Hansen. Parents of a teenage girl killed as a passenger in a drunk driving accident sued another teen’s parents who served kegs of beer to minors at their home to celebrate their daughter’s birthday. They alleged negligence per se (as a matter of law) based on an alleged violation of F.S. 856.015, Florida’s statute against adults hosting house parties with knowledge that those under 21 will possess or use alcohol or drugs. Trial court dismissed the claim, but the 2nd DCA reversed, noting the 1st DCA ruling a year earlier in Newsome v. Haffner that first recognized this cause of action.

Our experienced drunk driving injury attorneys in Orlando are committed to helping you explore every available legal option if you’re injured in a crash.

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:

Trainor v. Hansen, July 23, 1999, Florida Second District Court of Appeal

More Blog Entries:

Sunroof Safety Questioned Amid Stagnant Standards and Crash Injuries, March 28, 2018, Orlando Drunk Driving Accident Attorney Blog

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