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Pursuing Third-Party Liability in Drunk Driving Accidents

When asked who is responsible for drunk driving accidents in Florida, the most logical answer is: The drunk driver. This is true, of course, but this may not be the only individual or entity responsible. 

There are several ways we might establish a third-party liable to pay for the actions of a drunk driver. These might include:

  • Vicarious liability. This is when another person/ or entity may not have been negligent, but can be held liable vicariously via the negligence of the impaired driver. One example would be if the driver was acting in the course and scope of employment at the time of the crash. The doctrine of respondeat superior allows for vicarious liability when negligent drivers are working. The second would be the vicarious liability of the vehicle owner, if it was someone other than the vehicle driver. This won’t apply to rental car companies, but it can apply in other cases.
  • UM/UIM coverage. This is insurance for which you pay that provides additional coverage when the at-fault driver either doesn’t have insurance or lacks enough insurance to fully cover the cost of your damages.
  • Dram shop liability. Florida has a limited dram shop liability statute in F.S. 768.125. It states those who sell or furnish alcoholic beverages to another won’t be liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting form intoxication of that person UNLESS the drunk driver was under 21 or known by third party defendant to be habitually addicted to any or all alcoholic beverages.

There could be other causes of action too, but it will be case specific, which is why input from an experienced drunk driving accident attorney in Orlando is imperative. 

Dram shop liability varies significantly from state-to-state. The limits of these laws are constantly being pushed.

For example, the Oklahoma Supreme Court recently ruled it would recognize a cause of action against a commercial alcohol vendor selling booze to a noticeably intoxicated adult for consumption of site when consumption of that drunk results in injury to a third party.

According to court records, plaintiffs filed this action against a local convenience store, alleging employees of the store recklessly sold beer to a person who was noticeably drunk. That person then got behind the wheel of a vehicle and caused a collision several hours later in which one person was killed and two others severely and permanently injured.

Defendant store filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. On appeal, the state supreme court reversed that order.

Evidence showed the drunk driver was consuming alcohol from about 8:30 a.m. to about 5 p.m. during a golf tournament. The tournament ended around 2 p.m. He returned home around 3:20 p.m. As he drove, he testified, he was “beginning to sober up a little bit,” though he didn’t remember returning home. He then grilled chicken, and consumed five more beers, four more shots and a “a sip” of moonshine. He then drove himself to defendant convenience store, purchased cigarettes and a case of beer. He later testified he did not remember going to the store.

He returned home, consumed several beers, then left for a party, at which he arrived around 9 p.m. He testified he arrived drunk, but only drank one shot of vodka while there. Two hours later – and five-to-six hours after his stop at the convenience store – he started his drive home. He ran a four-way stop sign while speeding, colliding with the other vehicle, causing a death and two serious injuries. The other vehicle was driven by a sober ride taxi service. The woman killed was a passenger.

In the lawsuit against the convenience store, plaintiffs alleged store employee was not trained for alcohol sales. The worker testified he knew he wasn’t supposed to sell alcohol to anyone visibly impaired, but had not been trained on how to look for those signs. An expert witness calculated driver’s blood-alcohol concentration at the time of sale to be around 0.33.

Defendant store argued there is no cause of action when alcohol is sold by a commercial vendor to an adult for consumption off site. The state supreme court disagreed.

Although Florida doesn’t forbid sales to those “visibly intoxicated,” there may still be grounds to explore liability. Contact an experienced drunk driving injury lawyer to learn more about your rights.

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:

Boyle v. ASAP Energy, Inc., Oct. 24, 2017, Oklahoma Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Company Sued for Alleged Improper Installation of Tires Leading to Fatal Crash, Oct. 11, 2017, Orlando Drunk Driving Injury Lawyer Blog

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