Court Vacates $28.6M Default Judgment Against Bars
Two bars were sued after a 20-year-old man struck an 18-year-old woman, both of whom were drunk at the time of the accident. Both bars served underage patrons. Under Florida law, bars can almost never be held responsible for overserving customers unless those customers are not of the legal drinking age.
The family of the victim filed a lawsuit against two bars responsible for serving the patrons. The bars never responded to the lawsuit, so a verdict of $28.6 million was entered against them by default. However, the bars appealed the verdict on the basis that the judge failed to consider comparative negligence arguments. In Florida, comparative negligence is when you assign blame to multiple parties. Each party is assigned some percentage of the blame, including the plaintiffs. The appeals court ruled that the judge in the case failed to appropriately consider comparative negligence arguments.
Why was there a difference of opinion?
The 20-year-old man who struck the 18-year-old girl was an employee of one of the defendants. According to the circuit court judge, that made it a matter of willful misconduct, since the employer knew that the employee was underage. According to the circuit court judge, comparative negligence would not apply in cases where there is intentional wrongdoing.
In most personal injury cases, employees and their employers are treated as one entity. However, since the willful misconduct was ascribed to an employee, the employer was only negligent for allowing the willful misconduct to occur, according to the appeals court. On that basis, the judgment entered against both defendants was overturned.
The plaintiff will have to retry the case or appeal the appellate court’s decision.
Understanding the bar’s position
The law, in general, treats employees and employers as one when it comes to personal injury lawsuits. However, criminal cases are filed against individuals who violate specific laws. In this case, the employer allowed an employee to access alcohol that was illegal for them to consume. What role the employer had in allowing this to happen is important to the case. The employer wants to blame the employee for illegally taking something that didn’t belong to them. The employer would have some negligence for allowing this to happen, but a lot of the negligence would fall on the employee who is considered independent of the employer.
It’s awkward because the plaintiff wants to be able to sue the employer for derivative negligence and the employee committed an intentionally illegal act. The employer wants their own negligence to be considered independently of their employees. So, now we have a situation where the courts disagree on whether a comparative negligence argument is appropriate to this suit.
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If you are injured due to the negligence of another person or company, call the Tampa personal injury lawyers at The Matassini Law Firm today to schedule a free consultation and learn more about how we can help you recover damages related to your injuries.