Court Finds Insufficient Evidence of Alcohol Addiction to Impose Liability on a Bar Following a Drunk Driving Accident

Drunk driving accidents are unfortunate occurrences that frequently cause serious and often fatal injuries. In addition to seeking damages from the drunk driver, Florida law permits injured parties to seek compensation from anyone who served the driver alcohol if they knew the driver was a habitual addict.

The injured party must present adequate evidence of addiction, however, and the failure to do so may be fatal to their claim, as illustrated in a recent case decided by a Florida appellate court. If you were injured in a South Florida car accident caused by a drunk driver, you should retain an experienced personal injury attorney to provide you with a strong chance for a successful outcome under the circumstances.

Facts Regarding the Driver’s Consumption of Alcohol and the Subsequent Accident

Reportedly, the defendant driver struck two couples on mopeds from behind at 10:15 pm when he was on his way home from work. All of the individuals on the mopeds were injured and one individual died from her injuries. The driver was employed at a Key West restaurant and worked until 5:00 pm that evening. After he was done working, he remained at the bar and consumed several alcoholic beverages.  The bartender on duty stated the defendant was not drunk when he arrived, but when he left at 10:00 pm he was intoxicated, stumbling and slurring his speech. It was stipulated that the defendant driver’s blood alcohol level at the time of the crash was .2 grams per deciliter. The injured parties and the personal representative of the deceased party filed an action to recover damages from the defendant driver and his employer. The plaintiffs’ claims against the employer were based, in part, on a Florida statute that imposes liability on anyone who serves alcohol to a person habitually addicted to alcohol, if the person then injures a third party.

Evidence of Habitual Addiction

Allegedly, the issue of whether the defendant driver was habitually addicted was thoroughly disputed. The plaintiffs presented a forensic toxicologist, who was an expert on the effects of alcohol on human performance, retrograde extrapolation, and several other alcohol-related topics. He was not a medical doctor, however, and did not have the expertise to opine on whether an individual is addicted to alcohol. He provided an affidavit stating that anyone who could function with a blood alcohol level greater than .16 was an alcoholic, and noted that the defendant driver admitted he abused alcohol and was an alcoholic. He did not assess the defendant driver at any time. After the court assessed the expert’s qualifications, the court excluded his opinion as to whether the defendant driver was an alcoholic from evidence. Following a trial, the jury found in favor of the employer. The plaintiffs filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied. Plaintiffs then filed an appeal, arguing the trial court erred in excluding the plaintiffs’ expert’s opinion regarding the defendant driver’s addiction.

Habitual Addiction Defined

On review, the court found that a diagnosis of the mental health and medical disorder of alcohol abuse would require an examination by a medical professional, and the defendant driver’s blood alcohol tests or eyewitness testimony would not provide a sufficient basis for a diagnosis. Further, the court stated that evidence of habitual addiction based on subjective observation would require eyewitness evidence, not an expert opinion. As such, the court found that the trial court properly excluded the plaintiffs’ expert’s testimony as to the defendant driver’s habitual addiction.

Retain an Experienced South Florida Car Accident Attorney

If you were injured in a car accident in South Florida, you should retain an experienced car accident attorney as soon as possible to analyze who may bear the responsibility for your harm.  The South Florida personal injury attorneys of Donaldson & Weston will work diligently to help you recover any damages you may be owed. Contact us at 772-266-5555 or 561-299-3999 to schedule a free and confidential meeting.

More Blog Posts:

Florida Court of Appeal Allows Personal Representative to Pursue Drunk Driving Accident Case, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, July 26, 2017