Articles Posted in Drunk Driving Accidents

South Florida drunk and impaired driving accidents are a far-too-common occurrence. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (“NHTSA”), millions of people choose to drive while under the influence of drugs and alcohol each year. Impaired driving contributes to over 800 deaths in Florida every year and often claims the lives of the most vulnerable, such as children and older adults. These deaths are predictable and preventable, yet people continue to engage in this deadly conduct.

In Florida, those who suffer injuries or lose a loved one because of another driver’s negligence may file a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit against the culpable parties. In addition to the negligent impaired driver, victims may file cases against the vendor who served alcohol under Fla. Statutes section 768.125, commonly known as the Dram Shop Law.

A wrongful death lawsuit may be appropriate in tragic cases where the victim succumbs to their injuries. For instance, local news reports recently described a deadly Florida DUI involving a WWE Hall of Famer. The driver rear-ended a 75-year-old driver who was stopped at a traffic light. Emergency responders transported the 75-year-old victim to a hospital, where he succumbed to injuries. Police reported that the driver was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash. Toxicology reports revealed that her blood-alcohol level was more than 3.5 times the legal limit. Authorities charged the driver with DUI causing death, causing death while operating a vehicle with a suspended or revoked license, DUI causing injury to a person, and three counts of DUI property damage.

The First District Court of Appeal recently issued an opinion addressing the apportionment of liability stemming from a Florida pedestrian accident. According to the court’s opinion, the underage driver worked at a bar where he received a 50% discount on drinks. After drinking at his place of employment, he drove drunk and proceeded to hit a pedestrian. The pedestrian, who was also underage, was served alcohol at a different bar. The pedestrian filed a lawsuit against both bars to recover damages for her injuries. On appeal, the bar employing the driver argued that they should have asserted a comparative fault defense. The plaintiff asserts that the claim falls under the state’s Dram Shop statute, and therefore the law does not entitle the defendant to this defense.

Florida’s comparative law statute provides that a claimant’s contributory fault reduces their compensation based on their level of fault. However, the law applies to negligence actions, not intentional torts. In this case, the plaintiff cites the state’s Dram Shop statute, which provides that an establishment that sells or provides alcohol to a person will be liable for any injuries or damages resulting from the intoxicated person. The Court reasoned that the dram shop statute does not create a new cause of action; therefore, it does not transform the existing action into an intentional tort.

In light of the finding, the defendant purported to use the “alcohol defense” to thwart liability for the driver’s action. Under the defense, a plaintiff may not recover for damages if:

Sometimes, no matter how careful we are on the road, what other drivers do is out of our control. When reckless or intoxicated drivers, bad weather conditions, or other external factors occur, accidents are sometimes inevitable. When the factors are preventable or at least avoidable, however, those who are responsible should be held accountable—especially if the accident that takes place results in significant injury, death, or property damage.

According to a recent Florida news report, a local man was recently sentenced to 60 years in prison following a fatal drunk driving accident that left a couple and their unborn child dead. A jury convicted the man of DUI manslaughter, leaving the scene of a car accident involving a death, and driving with a permanently revoked driver’s license. In 2018 when the initial accident took place, investigators said that the man was heavily intoxicated and driving the wrong way when he hit the couple’s car. He subsequently fled the scene and hid for hours in a ditch until local authorities located him. The man’s records indicated that he had a history of reckless driving, with five previous DUI arrests and his license revoked.

In Florida, like other states, loved ones of a deceased individual may have grounds to bring a wrongful death lawsuit if the deceased passed away because of another individual’s actions. Florida law defines wrongful death as taking place when an individual causes another’s death through a “wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract or warranty.” Negligence-based accidents, such as reckless drunk driving accidents, for example, could serve as grounds for bringing a wrongful death suit.

Earlier this month, police officers arrested a South Florida man, charging him with several crimes related to a 2019 fatal Florida drunk driving accident. According to a recent news report, the man was driving at a high speed when he exited Interstate 95 in Fort Lauderdale. As he descended the off-ramp, he ran a stoplight, crashing into a Honda sedan.

The force from the collision pushed the Honda into traffic, where it was hit by a Jeep. The driver of the Honda was ejected from the vehicle and was pronounced dead at the scene by emergency responders. The at-fault driver remained at the scene, and police officers administered a breath test, discovering that he had a blood-alcohol content of .17. He also had several drugs in his system, including methamphetamine.

While law enforcement was aware of the driver’s intoxication at the time of the accident, the driver was not immediately arrested and charged. However, just this month, prosecutors decided to charge the man with several serious charges, including DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide, DUI causing serious bodily injury, reckless driving causing serious bodily injury, DUI with damage to property or a person and reckless driving causing damage to property or a person. Authorities have not yet explained why there was such a significant delay in charging the driver.

A Florida appellate court recently issued an opinion considering whether an insurance company acted in bad faith towards its policyholder when it failed to settle a claim. The claim arose when the insured slammed into another driver’s vehicle while driving drunk, pushing it in front of an oncoming train. The driver’s eight-year-old son was killed in the accident, and the driver suffered permanent injuries. After two years of criminal proceedings, the insured pleaded guilty, and the court sentenced him to 12 years in prison.

Following the accident, the insurance company tried to settle the claim with the victim and tender the entire policy limits to the woman and her son’s estate. The woman’s attorney stated that they were not ready to accept the payment and would await the culmination of the insured’s criminal proceeding. After the insured’s guilty plea, the woman’s new attorney advised the insurance company that they were ready to accept the settlement so long as it strictly complied with several provisions. Most relevant was that acceptance of the settlement would only release the insured and prohibited any indemnity provisions. The insurance company issued a check and stated that they satisfied all conditions. However, the woman’s attorney disagreed, and the insurance company responded that the attorney could strike any conditions they did not agree with. The attorney did not respond, and the woman filed a lawsuit against the driver in state court and won a judgment exceeding $10 million. The woman then filed a third-party bad faith lawsuit against the insurance company.

Under Florida law, insurance companies owe a good faith duty to their insureds in handling their claims. While the duty typically governs the relationship between the company and the insured, Florida law permits causes of action by the victim against the insurance company for its bad-faith failure to settle. The primary inquiry in these cases is whether the insurer diligently worked to settle the claim as if the victim were in the insured’s shoes. In this case, the victim argued that the company acted in bad faith by including overly broad release language. Although overbroad language can create a jury question, the court reasoned that it does not automatically amount to bad faith. Further, looking at the totality of the circumstances, it is clear that the insurance company attempted to settle the claim in a timely and fair manner. Ultimately, the court found that while the company’s action may have been negligent, it did not amount to bad faith.

Individuals charged under Florida’s driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while impaired (DWI) statutes may face criminal and civil charges. Under the criminal system, the state must prove that the defendant is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Whereas, the burden is much lower in the civil system, and plaintiffs must only establish liability by a “preponderance of the evidence.” Although criminal charges are not necessary to a successful Florida personal injury lawsuit, they can certainly play a role in the outcome.

When someone suffers an injury, or dies after a Florida DUI accident, they or their families may recover damages from the responsible party. Families who wish to recover damages should understand the steps necessary to successfully establishing liability. One of the first factors courts will consider is whether the defendant was negligent or driving under the influence or while impaired. The courts will review whether the driver was showing signs of impairment after the accident. It is also essential that plaintiffs submit evidence of the driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). However, currently, Florida does not have specific BAC testing requirements; therefore, it is up to the officer’s discretion whether they decide to conduct a test. Next, proving fault in a DUI accident requires the plaintiff to present evidence regarding the defendant’s intoxication level. Finally, it is important to establish whether the driver acted negligently and put the public at risk.

Evidence is critical in every personal injury case, but it is imperative in cases involving negligent per se. Negligence per se occurs when a person violates a statute created to protect a particular group of people, and the damage caused by the violation was the kind the statute was designed to protect. Negligence per se is often applicable in Florida DUI and DWI cases. Some critical pieces of evidence are police reports, witness accounts and statements, BAC testing results, medical records, and expert opinion testimony. It is important that victims and their families consult with an attorney because these accidents can cause serious long-term repercussions.

The First District Court of the State of Florida recently issued an opinion in response to a defendant’s petition for certiorari review of a punitive damages claim. The case arose following an incident where the defendant was driving under the influence of alcohol and marijuana. According to the court’s opinion, the defendant ran his car into the plaintiff and several other pedestrians. The defendant pled guilty to the claims, and the plaintiff amended his complaint to add a claim for punitive damages. The trial court granted the plaintiff’s motion to amend his complaint, and the defendant appealed.

Under Florida law, a party may ask the court for certiorari relief if the party believes that the trial court failed to comply with appropriate procedural requirements. The party must establish that the trial court departed from the law’s requirements, which resulted in a material injury to the case, and the error cannot be corrected on appeal.

In this case, the defendant argued that the trial court erred in allowing the plaintiff to claim punitive damages. The defendant claimed that the plaintiff did not abide by the evidentiary requirements of a punitive damages claim. Further, the defendant argued that the court failed to make the appropriate findings that the plaintiff met the punitive damages evidentiary standard.

The First District Court of Appeal in the State of Florida recently reviewed a trial court’s order denying a manufacturer a directed verdict in a Florida wrongful death claim. According to the court’s opinion, the company manufactured products containing a synthetic marijuana product, commonly known as “spice.” A warning was contained in  the product that indicated it was unsafe for consumption by humans. A man purchased the product voluntarily consumed it, subsequently became impaired, and then drove his car into another vehicle. The man was sentenced to prison for his criminal conduct. The decedent’s representatives filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the manufacturer, arguing that the company was liable for their family member’s death.

At trial, the company filed a directed verdict motion and argued that they were not proximately liable for the death because the man’s intoxication was the sole cause of the decedent’s death. The trial court denied the motion, and the jury found in favor of the plaintiffs, attributing 65% of the fault to the company and 35% fault to the intoxicated driver. The company appealed the ruling arguing, again, that the impaired man’s criminal conduct was the sole proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

Proximate cause is a legal theory that imputes liability on a party when their actions set forth a sequence of events that led to an injury. Under Florida law, questions regarding proximate cause are left to the fact-finder; however, in some situations, a judge may address the issue where evidence suggests there is no more than one inference. Moreover, the Florida Supreme Court has found that when an actor’s behavior creates a dangerous situation, the law does not permit a jury to find a proximate cause where an unforeseeable, intervening act is responsible for the injuries. In some cases, plaintiffs may argue that third parties that create a dangerous situation could reasonably foresee that their negligence could set a chain of events in a motion that may result in injuries. However, Florida does not allow a jury to consider proximate cause in cases where the person responsible for the injuries is voluntarily impaired or purposely misuses a product.

In the tragic event of a Florida DUI accident, people other than the driver may be held responsible for the crash in some circumstances. If another person or establishment allowed the operator to drive drunk, they may be found liable for the driver’s actions in a Florida personal injury claim.

A Florida negligent entrustment claim is based on negligently entrusting another person with a dangerous object, such as entrusting a person with a vehicle when the person is drunk. Under Florida law, to prove a negligent entrustment claim, a plaintiff must show that a person supplied directly or through a third person a chattel for the use of another person that the supplier knew or had reason to know would use it a way that involved an unreasonable risk of physical harm to himself and others. Florida courts have held that cars are dangerous instrumentalities and, not surprisingly, also that drunk driving is dangerous. However, Florida courts also generally hold that to prove a negligent entrustment claim in a drunk driving case, an owner will not generally be held liable if a person has a legal duty to return property to its owner. Some Florida courts have found that liability does not depend on ownership, but rather whether the harm was or should have been foreseeable.

Court Affirms $45 Million Award in DUI Negligent Entrustment Claim

It is hard to understand, given the wealth of knowledge illustrating the dangers of drunk driving, why anyone would drive after having too much to drink. However, it happens all the time. In Florida, there were over 5,000 Florida drunk driving accidents in 2017 alone. Of those accidents, 350 resulted in at least one death.

Florida truck accidents involving an intoxicated driver are more common than many motorists believe. One reason for this is that truck drivers spend long hours on the road, and often take various substances to stay awake. Aside from alcohol, the three most common drugs used by truck drivers are marijuana, amphetamines, and cocaine. Each of these drugs tends to cause a driver to be more alert initially; however, as the drug wears off, truck drivers may feel tired or lethargic.

Taking drugs while driving a large truck increases several risks. First, the mind-altering effect the drug has on the driver can decrease reaction time and reduce cognitive functioning overall. And second, once the drug wears off, the risk of a Florida drowsy driving accident increases.

Contact Information