Florida Supreme Court Takes Up Case Involving Drunk Minors
The guardian of an 18-year-old woman filed a lawsuit against two Florida bars near Florida State University that she blamed for the accident. Both of these bars served minors the night of the accident which resulted in catastrophic injuries to the 18-year-old woman. She was struck by a pickup truck that was driven by another minor, a 20-year-old man who had also been served by a local bar. One of the bars failed to respond to the lawsuit and a $28.6 million verdict was entered jointly and severally against them. But the bar appealed the judgment on the basis of a comparative fault defense. They argued that since the case involved a question of negligence, the court should have considered comparative fault in the case. In a 2-1 decision, the judgment against the bar that served the 20-year-old man was thrown out and remanded for a new trial.
In a dissenting opinion, the one justice who sided with the plaintiffs argued that the issue involved one of intentional misconduct and not negligence. The 20-year-old man who drove the pickup truck was an employee of the bar that served him alcohol. Hence, they knew that he was underage when they served him.
Dram shop liability in Florida
Dram shops are generally not liable for the conduct of customers who then go out and drive drunk. In most cases, they are immune from such lawsuits. One exception is when they knowingly serve alcohol to an underage person. In the case mentioned above, one of the bars named in the lawsuit is accused of intentional misconduct in that they served one of their employees alcohol who was under the age of 21.
The question for the Supreme Court will be whether or not the matter involves negligence or intentional misconduct. Attorneys for the plaintiff argued that the bars in this case should be treated as having committed intentional misconduct and the case should be considered an intentional tort as opposed to a negligence action. Attorneys for the bar contended that serving alcohol to a minor is an issue of negligence and that the Supreme Court should not take up the case as the appellate court reached the correct decision.
Florida State University also filed a brief with the court in support of the plaintiff’s argument that the bar intentionally served an underage minor and is therefore responsible for the entire judgment filed against them. FSU is concerned about its student populations being allowed to drink at local bars.
In the case mentioned above, the plaintiff was left critically wounded in the hit-and-run accident caused by the 20-year-old man. The 20-year-old will face charges of DUI, being involved in a hit-and-run accident, and causing great bodily injury. These are felony charges in the state of Florida.
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