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Personal Injury Lawsuits After a DUI Crash

If you were injured in a crash involving a drunk or impaired driver then contact the attorneys at the Sammis Law Firm immediately at 813-250-0500. Your personal injury attorney should be well versed in Florida's DUI laws and how those facts impact the amount of money damages that you should receive after the crash. 

Call us to find out how much your case is worth and how to maximize the money damages that you receive in the case.

Never talk to the insurance company about your injuries until after you have an attorney to represent your interests in the civil case. The decisions that you make in the hours and days after the crash can often play an important role in how your personal injury claim is eventually settled. 

An experienced attorney can help you at every stage of the case and relieve much of the stress and aggravation that comes with finding justice and holding the at-fault driver responsible for the damages caused by the crash.

The first issue in these cases is determining the policy limits of the at-fault driver. If an allegation of drunk or impaired driving occurred in the case, then the drunk or impaired driver will often be found at fault for the crash. Other criminal charges can also play an important role in how fault is determined including:

  • DUI;
  • Racing;
  • Reckless driving; or
  • Leaving the scene of a crash (often called "hit and run"). 

Hopefully, the at-fault driver has insurance policy limits that are sufficient to cover all of your damages. In many of these cases, the insurance company will just settle the case for those policy limits and that settlement might come very early in the case. 

If the policy limits are not sufficient to cover all of your damages, then your personal injury attorney also needs to look at any other at-fault parties that can be held liable for your damages.

Call 813-250-0500 to discuss your case today.

Evidence of Drunk Driving in Automobile Negligence Cases in Florida

In an automobile negligence case, when the defendant does not admit liability, evidence of the driver's impairment from drugs or alcohol is generally admissible. This is powerful evidence to put before the jury at trial.

For this reason, the defendant will often admit liability regarding the cause of the accident in an effort to make evidence of the defendant's sobriety is irrelevant and prejudicial. Swanson v. Robles, 128 So.3d 915, 917–18 (Fla. 2d DCA 2013).

For instance in Neering v. Johnson, 390 So.2d 742, 742 (Fla. 4th DCA 1980), the appellate court concluded that the trial court erred in admitting testimony of defendant's sobriety when “[p]rior to trial the parties entered into a written stipulation by which appellant admitted liability and the parties agreed the sole issue for trial was the damages incurred by appellees”.

The existence of the punitive damage claim does not change the result when the trial court also finds before trial that the driver was liable for punitive damages. In Swanson, 128 So.3d at 918, the court concluded that when “liability for punitive damages was no longer at issue ... [t]here was no reason to admit evidence of [defendant's] drug use in a bifurcated first phase other than to inflame the jury and increase the compensatory damages verdict.”


Third Parties Liable for Money Damages after a DUI Crash

After a DUI crash causing personal injury or death, the driver may not have enough insurance to cover the damages. In these cases, a personal injury attorney will also look at any other third party that can be held liable for money damages. Lawsuits have been brought against the social host at a party where alcohol was served or a bar or restaurant.

When the lawsuit is filed against the bar or restaurant where the drunk driver consumed alcohol before causing the accident then Florida law requires proof of the following elements:

  1. The bar or restaurant employees served alcohol to a person who became intoxicated;
  2. The person served was habitually addicted to alcoholic beverages; and
  3. The bar or restaurant employees served the person knowing that he was habitually addicted to alcoholic beverages.

In Ellis v. N.G.N. of Tampa, Inc., 586 So.2d 1042 (Fla.1991), the Florida Supreme Court held that proof that a bar served an individual a substantial amount of alcohol on multiple occasions would be evidence from which a jury could determine that the bar had sufficient knowledge to have violated section 768.125. See also Murphy v. S. Mut. Mgmt. Corp., 936 So. 2d 786, 787 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2006); Sabo v. Shamrock Commc'n, Inc., 566 So.2d 267 (Fla. 5th DCA 1990).


Florida Statute 768.128 - The Dram Shop Statute

In most cases, the ability to sue a third party for the damages caused by a DUI are limited by Florida's dram shop statute. In fact, the Florida legislature has acted to restrict civil liability in these cases.

That limitation of liability under Florida Statute Section 768.125 applies only to those who sell or furnish alcoholic beverages. The only exceptions to that limitation applies when the alcohol was furnished to someone who was underage or known to be habitually addicted.

Therefore, the courts have held that Florida's dram shop statute applies to bars and restaurants but not to a valet service. See Weber ex rel. Estate of Weber v. Marino Parking Sys., Inc., 100 So. 3d 729, 731 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2012) review denied, 123 So. 3d 562 (Fla. 2013) (In this case, the court held that a valet parking service does NOT owe a duty to third parties to refrain from returning car keys to an obviously intoxicated customer.).

Florida's Dram Shop Act alters the common law rule favoring taverns but only for willfully serving the minor or a person known to be habitually addicted. Florida Statute § 768.125 provides that “a person who willfully and unlawfully sells or furnishes alcoholic beverages to a person who is not of lawful drinking age ... may become liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such minor.”


The History of Florida's Dram Shop Act

Historically, under Florida common law, a bar or restaurant that served alcoholic beverages was not liable to to anyone injured as a result of the consumption of those alcoholic beverages. See Publix Supermarkets v. Austin, 658 So.2d 1064, 1066 (Fla. 5th DCA 1995).

In Davis v. Shiappacossee, 155 So.2d 365 (Fla.1963), the Florida Supreme Court modified this rule. In Davis the Court held that “violation of the statute prohibiting the sale of alcohol to minors (see section 562.11) could give rise to civil liability” through a negligence per se theory.

“As a judicial trend developed extending liability towards vendors of alcoholic beverages, the Florida Legislature intervened in 1980 and enacted..." what has become codified in section 768.125. See Publix Supermarkets, 658 So.2d at 1066. Florida's Dram Shop statute limited the expanded liability of those who provide alcohol. Id. at 1046-1047.

Florida Statute Section 768.125 provides:

Liability for injury or damage resulting from intoxication.—A person who sells or furnishes alcoholic beverages to a person of lawful drinking age shall not thereby become liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such person, except that a person who willfully and unlawfully sells or furnishes alcoholic beverages to a person who is not of lawful drinking age or who knowingly serves a person habitually addicted to the use of any or all alcoholic beverages may become liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such minor or person.

In effect, Florida Statute Section 768.125 “codified the original common law rule absolving vendors from liability for sales but provided exceptions for sales to those who were not of a lawful drinking age or to a person habitually addicted to alcoholic beverage use.”  Ellis v. N.G.N. of Tampa, Inc., 586 So.2d 1042, 1046 (Fla.1991).


Finding an Attorney after a DUI Crash

Contact the attorneys at the Sammis Law Firm if you suffered injuries after a crash involving an allegation that the at-fault driver was intoxicated by alcoholic beverages or impaired by a chemical or controlled substance. We can help you understand the process and how to maximize any settlement in the case. Call us to discuss how much your case might be worth. 

Whether the charges are DUI with property damage and non-serious bodily injury, DUI with serious bodily injury, DUI manslaughter or vehicular manslaughter we can help. Call today to discuss the case with one of our attorneys.

Call 813-250-0500.

This article was last updated on Friday, March 17, 2017.