A 20-year-old Florida woman was recently sentenced to four years in prison for causing the death of an acclaimed Miami chef. Karlie Tomica drank heavily during her shift at a nightclub, got behind the wheel and left the scene after hitting Stefano Riccioletti. After pleading guilty of driving with a BAC three times the legal limit, killing the chef and fleeing the scene, she was given the four-year sentence with a two-year house arrest and 15-year probation period. The chef’s family is suing the nightclub that employed Tomica for negligence in supplying a minor with alcohol on the job, under Florida’s dram shop law.
Florida generally does not punish establishments for serving customers whose drunk driving results in someone else’s injury. However, Florida’s dram shop law does hold bars and restaurants responsible for selling alcohol to anyone under the age of 21 and to “habitual drunkards.” A “habitual drunkard” is defined as someone who is “habitually addicted” to drinking. In these cases, the courts require proof that the bar or restaurant knew that it was serving such a person. Since it is illegal to serve alcohol to minors in any case, an establishment may also be held liable for the minor’s subsequent actions.
The theory behind restrictions on dram shop laws is that a driver’s decision to drink and drive, not the actual serving or purchase of liquor, is what is usually foreseeably dangerous and causes an accident. However, recognizing that people who are “habitually addicted” and minors generally cannot make responsible decisions after drinking, Florida law makes exceptions in these cases. While this does not absolve the person who drove while under the influence (DUI) from responsibility, it allows the victim to hold the person or establishment that served alcohol to the drunk driver to some level of responsibility as well.
Generally, social hosts who serve or provide alcohol to an adult at a private party at their homes are not responsible for injuries to third parties caused by their guests’ drinking. However, the Florida statute includes those who serve, not only those who sell alcohol to a minor or alcoholic as potentially liable parties in these cases.
If you were injured in an auto accident in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area caused by an intoxicated minor or a habitual drinker, you may be able to sue both the driver and the establishment or person that sold or served the person the alcohol. Hiring a seasoned Florida personal injury attorney can help your family receive just compensation.