Underage Drunk Driving Accident

Drunk drivers cause collisions with other vehicles, pedestrians, and property throughout Southwest Florida. These crashes are often severe, resulting in catastrophic personal injury or wrongful death. Tragically, an increasingly common occurrence involves minors—under the age of 18—and underage drinkers—anyone under age 21—who are driving while under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicant.

Pursuing Compensation from Underage Drunk Drivers

When underage drunk drivers cause damage, injury, and death, then they may be punished with criminal penalties. The purpose is to punish and deter such conduct.

Securing compensation needed to address present and future medical needs, financial needs, and peace of mind, however, is typically not resolved in the criminal justice system. In a drunk driving accident involving a minor, then there may be several parties held liable for damages:

  • Driver
  • Owner of vehicle
  • Parents of driver
  • Adult who signed minor’s driver license application

In many circumstances, especially in those instances in which auto accident results in catastrophic injury—amputation, spinal cord injury, brain injury, paralysis, bone fractures with surgery, disfigurement, severe burns—or death, the liability insurance of all of these parties may be limited. Important goals of the civil justice system are to hold wrongdoers liable and accountable for their misconduct. That wrongdoing may be in the form of negligence, reckless acts, careless behavior, or indifference to the rights of others.

Perhaps the most important component of the civil justice system is to provide full compensation for damages. Damages are comprised of financial losses and pain and suffering from the time of the incident and into the future, depending on the circumstances. The at fault driver, vehicle owner, parent or adult who may be liable for the car accident involving an underage drunk driver or minor drunk driver, may not be sufficient to provide enough compensation for the amount of damages caused in the crash.

Other sources of recovery may be available depending on the particular facts of the case.

Liability of Bars, Restaurants, and Social Hosts for a Minor’s Drunk Driving

Liquor liability in Florida is often limited for businesses which over-serve alcohol to patrons who subsequently drive drunk and crash into victims. The reality is that dram shop laws in Florida were drafted by the special interests. Those lobbyists wrote a law which is designed to protect corporate interests involving beer, wine, spirits, and hospital industries, as well as big restaurant chains.

There are notable exceptions in the law, however, which do permit liability against claims and lawsuits for serving minors and adults under the age of 21 years old. Depending on the circumstances, commercial businesses may be held liable for damages caused by underage drinkers:

  • restaurants
  • bars
  • taverns
  • supermarkets
  • convenience stores
  • liquor stores
  • hotels
  • caterers
  • similar alcohol sales and hospitality businesses

Similarly, social hosts which serve alcoholic beverages or other intoxicating substances to minors and adults under the age drinking age of 21, may be held civilly liable for their actions.

  • homeowners
  • homeowner associations
  • party hosts
  • condo associations
  • property owners
  • business office party hosts
  • promotional event planners

The circumstances before the crash will reveal who may be held liable in addition to the driver of owner of the motor vehicle.

Claims and Defenses in Underage Drunk Driving Injury and Death Claims can be Complex

The enforcement of potential civil claims, as well as limits, are contained to some degree in Florida’s several statutes governing liquor liability. Court decisions—common law precedent applying these laws to different factual scenarios—also provide a source of determining the extent of liability under the facts of any given situation.

It is a violation of the law for any person or business to sell or provide alcoholic beverages to a person under the age of 21. There may be defenses, however, if there is evidence that the underage drinker misrepresents his or her age.

Under Florida law, for example, Florida Statute § 768.125 Liability for injury or damage resulting from intoxication provides the following:

“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.”

There are other statutes and court decisions which affect how Section 768.125 is applied to specific circumstances. The important takeaway is that the seller or server of the beer, wine, liquor, of other form of alcohol to someone who is not of lawful drinking age may be held civilly liable for all injuries or damages caused by that drunk driver.

Convenience Stores, Pharmacies, Supermarkets and Similar Retail Businesses May be Held Liable for Selling Non-Alcoholic Substances Which Impair Minor Drivers

Florida is peculiar among the States to the degree which the State attempts to provide immunity or defenses to sellers and servers of alcoholic beverages. No such protections currently exist, however, as to non-alcoholic substances which impair the faculties or abilities or minor drivers.

Florida’s beverage law and dram shop statute do not apply to sellers, servers, or distributors of substances—other than alcohol—which have intoxicating properties. Over the counter medicines, supplements, inhalants, and non-alcoholic beverages sold to minors, and which contain intoxicating or impairing substances can often depress reaction times similar to alcohol. Selling such medicine, drugs, inhalants, supplements, or drinks to minors may create a cause of action against the pharmacy, convenience store, or other retail business if the use of the substance impaired driving skills resulting in a crash.

Lawyer for Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Victims of Underage Drunk Drivers

Fort Myers personal injury lawyer David Harris is an experienced advocate in the courtroom and in the negotiating room on behalf of the injured. David represents good people with passion and drive, and is determined to pursue civil justice  for each client. Since 1995, David has been a principled trial lawyer and litigator pursuing the best interests of clients.

Determined to obtain maximum recovery of compensation for clients, David personally works with every client to know them, their harms and losses, their story, and their needs. At Harris Law, your voice is heard and your opinions matter. David personally meets with you, takes your calls or promptly returns them, and answers your questions, so you know what is happening, understand the process, and know where you stand.

Your initial consultation is free, and if David accepts your case, then there is no fee unless there is a recovery.