Florida Court Finds Willfully Serving Minors Amounts to Intentional Misconduct

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:

  1. At the time of injury, the plaintiff was under the influence of an alcoholic beverage to the point that they were experiencing impairment of their normal faculties; and
  2. As a result of the influence, the plaintiff was more than 50% responsible for their harm.

Here, the Court found that the restaurant subjected itself to liability by willfully and unlawfully serving underage patrons. The substance of the claim stems from negligence; as such, the restaurant should have been permitted to present a comparative fault defense. However, the defense would not bar the plaintiff’s recovery. The Court remanded the case for the jury to consider whether and what percentage of the plaintiff’s negligence contributed to the accident.

Have You Suffered Injuries in a Drunk Driving Accident?

If you or someone you love has suffered injuries or died because of a negligent driver, contact Friedman Rodman Frank & Estrada for assistance. The South Florida DUI accident lawyers at our office have extensive experience successfully handling complex cases on behalf of our clients. We represent clients in Florida drunk driving injury lawsuits and other cases involving traffic accidents, premises liability, products liability, and wrongful death. Florida injury laws are complex and require an in-depth understanding of relevant case law and state and federal statutes. The lawyers at our office have overcome these challenges and secured significant amounts of compensation on behalf of our clients and their families. To learn more, contact our office at 877-448-8585 and schedule a free initial consultation with an attorney on our team.


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