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Liability for Alcohol Sellers in Florida

beer1Every state has different laws when it comes to the legal responsibility of bars and social hosts for providing alcohol to an individual who is later accountable for causing a motor vehicle wreck. Laws surrounding alcohol can be complex, which is why it is wise to consult a knowledgeable Miami injury attorney to determine what can be done in your case.

In the state of Florida, there is limited liability for bars and restaurants when it comes to incidents of drunk driving. Under state law, a person is liable when he or she willfully and unlawfully provides alcohol to an individual who is not of lawful drinking age or knowingly gives alcohol to an individual who is an alcohol addict.

In Case v. Newman, a Jacksonville woman was killed in a car accident when a 17-year-old drunk driver, Andrew Newman, struck her vehicle. Police confirmed that Newman was under the influence of alcohol when he lost control of his car and veered into the lane in which the decedent was driving. Paramedics determined that the victim was dead at the scene of the accident. The decedent’s daughter and personal representatives filed a lawsuit against Newman, his father and grandfather, who owned the car Newman was driving, and the store that sold Newman the alcohol.

The plaintiff settled with Newman, his father, and his grandfather.

The plaintiff claimed that the store owners never asked or verified Newman’s age. According to the plaintiff, the store owner’s sale of alcohol to Newman violated the Florida statute that prohibits selling alcohol to minors. Thus, the store owner’s conduct amounted to negligence per se.

The plaintiff added a claim for punitive damages against the store owners, who opposed this motion and moved for summary judgment. The store owners argued there was no evidence that Newman’s appearance at the time of the purchase was other than “older,” as he had stated in his deposition, there was no evidence that the store owners knew or should have known that they were selling alcohol to an individual who was underage, and therefore the ‘willfulness’ element was not met. Since ‘willfulness’ could not be met, the defendants maintained that the plaintiff could not seek punitive damages.

The trial court denied the motion for the plaintiff to add a claim for punitive damages and entered final summary judgment against the plaintiff, who appealed.

The appeals court disagreed with the lower court. Specifically, the court held that a genuine issue of material fact was raised with regard to whether the store owners were aware or should have been aware that Newman was under the legal drinking age. The court also stated the plaintiffs had sufficient grounds to add a punitive damages claim. The case was reversed and remanded.

Cases involving alcohol can be complex and very fact-intensive. Our highly skilled Miami auto accident lawyers strongly believe that accident victims deserve justice and fair monetary compensation to alleviate the burdens and pressure that accompany such incidents. We have worked extensively to protect the rights of our clients through settlement negotiations and at trial. To explore all your legal options, do not hesitate to reach out to us. You can contact us online or call us today at 1-877-499-HURT (4878) for a free, confidential consultation.

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