Jurors weighing the civil penalty in a drunk driving lawsuit awarded nearly $31 million in damages to a young woman who suffered catastrophic brain injuries. Plaintiff was just 18 when she was struck by a pickup truck driven by one of two underage drivers who moments earlier left a bar near the Florida State University campus.
The verdict followed the second of two trials in Faircloth v. Cantina Tallahassee, LLC, et al., after the first ended in mistrial in February. The woman’s parents – filing the claim on her behalf, sued the two bars that served alcohol to the underage driver, who did not stop at the street. The victim was on foot, reportedly crossing the street, at the time of the crash.
As our drunk driving injury lawyers can explain, plaintiffs in catastrophic injury claims need to explore every avenue for recovering damages. In impaired driving cases, that means looking at whether a dram shop claim is viable.
Florida Dram Shop Claims Difficult to Prove
Dram shop liability claims are those filed against vendors (bars, restaurants, baseball stadiums, etc.) that serve alcohol, and have a responsibility to ensure it’s done safely.
Dram shop laws vary greatly by state. For example, some states allow bars and restaurants to be held liable for serving alcohol to individuals who are clearly already visibly intoxicated.
Florida’s dram shop laws are much more restrictive than that. F.S. 768.125 allows for liability for injury resulting from intoxication – but only when a vendor sells alcohol to someone who is not of lawful drinking age OR who is known to be habitually addicted to alcohol. The latter poses a high proof burden, so most Florida dram shop cases are predicated on service of alcohol to those under 21.
That was the case in the claims against two bars that served a pair of underage drinkers one night in 2014 in Tallahassee. The driver struck a pedestrian. That woman, now 22, has suffered lifelong brain damage, and is unable to talk, walk or care for herself.
Attorneys in that case sought more than $31 million just in economic damages, which doesn’t include punitive damages for gross negligence/intentional misconduct.
Driver Was Employee of One of the Bars Sued for Drunk Driving Injury
The driver at the time was just 20-years-old. He was off work that evening and spent several hours drinking at one area bar before heading to the place of his employment, where he and an underage friend continued drinking.
After the collision, the driver fled the scene, though he was ultimately tracked down, arrested, convicted and sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for hit-and-run.
The trial centered on the owners and employees of those two bars serving underage drinkers. The first bar admitted fault for illegal service of alcohol to the underage driver, so the trial against that bar was limited solely to the question of how much should be paid in damages. The owner of the second bar disputed liability, saying that while it did serve alcohol to the underage driver, he was not drunk at the time of the collision, and it was the young woman’s own comparative negligence that was to blame for the crash. They alleged she was drunk and allegedly running across the street at the time of the crash.
Plaintiffs disputed this, asserting the driver purchased 18 beers and six shots of bourbon over the course of four hours. The crash occurred less than one minute after he left the bar. Because he was not located until four hours after the collision, there is no blood-alcohol testing. He reportedly fled, according to plaintiffs, because he feared a drunk driving charge.
Following a two-week trial, both bars were found liable for the catastrophic brain injury and jurors spent 90 minutes determining they should pay $31 million.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.