Florida’s dram shop law, codified in F.S. 768.125, allows for licensed establishments to face civil liability when they irresponsibly and knowingly serve alcohol to someone who is underage or known to be habitually addicted to alcohol, and that person in turn kills someone in a DUI accident.

keys1This was the basis for the case of Wilde v. Okechobee Aerie, recently before the Okechobee County Circuit Court.

A six-member jury decided the local Eagles Aerie club was negligent in allowing a member to leave the club drunk on the day in question. He’d been drinking for approximately nine straight hours there before he got into his vehicle and left.

The 73-year-old, who was later convicted of DUI, DUI property damage, DUI with serious bodily injury and leaving the scene of an accident with personal injury, was sentenced to a prison term of just five years.

His victim, meanwhile, is serving a life sentence after suffering massive brain trauma, shattered bones and damaged vision. He has trouble with walking. His memory is faded. Once a generator technician and diesel mechanic, he is no longer able to work. His wife told the jury the crash forever altered their lives.

The catastrophic injuries suffered by this man warranted a judgment of $11.2 million in damages to him and his wife.

According to court records, the driver had spent most of the day at the Eagles lodge consuming alcohol. At one point, a couple offered to drive him home. He turned them down, saying instead he would “sleep it off” in his truck. But he did not do that.

The bartenders and other staffers watched as defendant fumbled with his truck keys and then staggered toward the door, making his way to his vehicle.

Not long after, a local sheriff’s deputy received a call of a possible hit-and-run. He arrived at the scene of a two-lane highway. He found a man lying in the middle of the road. The deputy rushed over. The man was still. He shined a light into his eyes. There was no response.

That man did survive, but his injuries were severe.

It would later be revealed he was struck head-on by a pickup truck while driving his motorcycle. The driver of that truck was the same Eagles lodge patron who had just left his bar stool. He drifted into the opposite lane and struck the motorcyclist. He then dragged the motorcyclist an estimated 200 feet. He never stopped.

The driver was later arrested at his home. The truck was in his front yard, the damage to the driver’s side of the vehicle clearly visible. The driver said he didn’t remember being involved in any accident. A glove found stuck in the frame of the truck matched a glove that had been worn by the injured motorcyclist and was missing from the crash scene.

Driver’s blood-alcohol concentration was measured at more than three times the legal limit of 0.08.

The conviction in criminal court may have meant the offender served prison time and was off the road for five years, but it did little to help plaintiff cope with the deluge of medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering.

That’s where the dram shop lawsuit came in.

By successfully asserting negligence against the bar that recklessly served this man alcohol for hours on end before watching him stumble out the door, he was able to not only receive assistance with his financial burdens, but also send a message to other establishments that might do the same.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Okeechobee jury awards $11 million in DUI lawsuit; motorcyclist hit by drunk driver left permanently disabled, May 20, 2015, By Eric Kopp, Okeechobee News

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Motor Coach Safety Information May be Kept From Public, Aug. 23, 2015, Fort Myers Catastrophic Injury Lawyer Blog