Florida District Court of Appeal Reviews Drunk Driver Motorcycle Accident Case

In Okeechobee Aerie v. Wilde, Nos. 4D14-2770 and 4D14-2771, the court of appeals reviewed an appeal stemming from an $11 million verdict awarded to a motorcyclist injured by a drunk driver. The driver had recently left a social club bar that served him alcohol and contributed to his heavy inebriation. The driver’s blood alcohol content was .26 at the time of the accident, and the testimony of servers during the trial indicated that they knew he was an alcoholic. The injured motorcyclist and his wife filed suit against the bar that sold him alcohol. After the trial concluded in their favor, the social club bar appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in several ways. The appellate court agreed, remanding the case back for a new trial.

The social club bar disagreed with the court’s determination to allow evidence and a jury instruction regarding Florida’s Responsible Vendor Act. The injured motorcyclist and his wife claimed that the Act created two causes of action. The bar claimed it created only one cause of action. The appellate court pointed out that it actually eliminates a cause of action, shielding a person or vendor that serves alcoholic beverages from suit in some situations when the right to bring a claim might otherwise exist. An exception does exist, however, if the beverages were sold negligently to a habitual alcoholic. The court felt in this case that it was not enough to show that a drinking establishment knowingly served a habitual alcoholic. The court explained that the injured person must show that the establishment owed a legal duty to the injured person and that a breach occurred. Evidence of common sense, the bar’s failure to adequately train its staff, and societal standards were acceptable, but evidence of the Act went a step too far.

This ruling affected the next issue of whether or not the court erred by allowing evidence of a prior case in which a woman was killed by a different drunk driver who was served by the same establishment. This evidence was submitted solely on the basis that the bar was aware of the statute and its responsibilities under it. Since the introduction of the Act was deemed unacceptable, the evidence of the prior accident was also ruled inadmissible.

The bar also appealed the trial court’s decision not to include the drunk driver on the verdict form at the end of the trial. The bar felt that the jury should have been able to allocate liability between the two of them. The appellate court looked at a previous ruling in a similar case, in which they decided that the apportionment of responsibility is required unless the liability of one party is derivative of the directly liable negligent tortfeasor. Upon its review of the evidence and testimony, the court determined that the drunk driver’s act was derivative, since his conduct would not have happened unless the bar were negligent first. On this issue, there was no error by the trial court in excluding the driver from the form.  While this issue was decided in the injured motorcyclist’s favor, the court determined that a new trial was needed, reversing the verdict award to the injured person.

Our South Florida motorcycle accident attorneys know that most motorcycle injuries are serious injuries with costly medical expenses. Our office can help you try to maximize your damages and aggressively pursue all avenues of legal relief. For a free consultation, call 772-266-5555 or 561-299-3999.

More Blog Posts:

Florida District Appellate Decision Allows Woman Injured by Slip and Fall to Pursue Negligence Action Against County, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, April 19, 2016

Florida District Court of Appeal Reviews Grocery Store Slip-and-Fall Case, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, March 9, 2016