In many states, when a bar or restaurant serves alcohol to someone who is obviously intoxicated, the establishment is liable for damages if that person later causes the death or injury to someone in a drunk driving accident. States have put their own spins on dram shop laws, and in Florida, the law states that the bar or person who sold alcohol to the drunk driver is only liable if the driver is under the age of 21 or is "habitually addicted" to alcohol.
Florida's Second District Court of Appeal recently ruled on a case that tested just how far into the establishment dram shop liability reaches. After her daughter died in a 2007 drunk driving accident, a southern Florida woman sued the bar (now out of business) and the valet service under the dram shop law. The question before the court was whether the valet service could be held responsible for handing over the keys to the obviously intoxicated driver.
The trial court had dismissed the complaint against the valet company, and the appellate court agreed. Their opinions boil down to the nature of the relationship between the driver and the valet company and whether that relationship imposed the same duty that the relationship between the bar or seller of alcohol to the driver.
The court said that the law imposes liability on the person or business that sells or furnishes alcohol to the minor or the habitual drunkard (the term used in much of the case law). Because the valet did not sell or furnish the alcohol, the valet company is off the hook.
We'll get into more detail about the decision in our next post.
Source: Marco News, "Court: Valet not liable for letting drunken driver leave," Aisling Swift, Nov. 9, 2012
Our Bradenton, Florida, law firm works with people like the plaintiff discussed in this post. Please visit the drunk driving accidents page of our website for more information about our practice.