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Florida Restaurant Did Not Have Duty to Stop Drunk Driver from Getting Behind the Wheel

ddDrunk driving accidents can have devastating consequences for everyone involved. In drunk driver crashes, however, accountability is not always clear. In some states, bars and establishments that serve the at-fault driver alcohol may be liable for the accident. Under Florida’s dram shop laws, codified in F.S. 768.125, an establishment or bar is liable only if they willfully and unlawfully serve alcohol to an individual who is under 21 years of age or known to the establishment to be habitually addicted to alcohol.

In De La Torre v. Flanigan’s Enterprise, Inc., the plaintiffs sustained injuries when they got into a wreck with a drunk driver. The drunk driver was a woman who had been drinking at a restaurant that night. At some point in the evening, the employees in the restaurant stopped serving her alcohol and gave her water in an attempt to “sober her up.” Ultimately, she left the restaurant and got behind the wheel. As she was driving, she entered into oncoming traffic and caused the accident that injured the plaintiffs.

After the accident, the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the restaurant that had been serving the woman alcohol. It is important to note that the restaurant had an internal policy to prevent customers from driving away drunk. This policy involved taking the intoxicated patron’s keys away and making sure he or she left in a cab or with a sober driver.

In the plaintiffs’ claim, they argued that the restaurant had taken on the duty to prevent patrons from driving drunk and, in this case, was negligent. The restaurant filed a motion to dismiss the claim, stating that F.S. 768.125 precluded liability. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion, and the plaintiffs appealed.

The plaintiffs agreed that the defendant was not liable under F.S. 768.125, but they insisted that the restaurant was liable under what’s known as the “undertaker’s doctrine.” This doctrine can be invoked when an individual or establishment undertakes a duty for the protection of a third person but fails to exercise reasonable care in that undertaking, and is thereby a cause of the physical harm to the third party.

Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals ruled that the undertaker’s doctrine was inapplicable in this case because the restaurant’s action did not rise to the level that would be required to impose liability under this doctrine. The court further explained that Florida law does not mandate business owners to determine the safety of drunk patrons who leave their establishment, and placing liability on restaurants for their internal policies to deter drunk driving would only dissuade others from attempting to stop drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel.

If a drunk driver injured you or someone close to you, it is important to seek the help of a seasoned Miami car accident attorney as soon as possible. At the Law Offices of Robert Dixon, we have helped many South Florida residents recover the compensation they deserve for their harm, and we can help you as well. For more information about your legal rights and options, call us at 1-877-499-HURT (4878) or contact us online today.

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