An intoxicated teenage driver lost control of his speeding car on the Courtney Campbell Causeway; the ensuing wreck killed one person.
Eighteen-year-old Adrian Doth, of Clearwater, apparently tried to pass a Nissan. As he accelerated, Mr. Doth evidently bumped or otherwise disrupted the Nissan’s trajectory, sending both vehicles careening into the guardrail. One of the passengers in Mr. Doth’s Pontiac, Jonathan Mendoza-Pena, of Clearwater, was ejected from the vehicle and later declared dead at a local hospital. Another passenger, 19-year-old David Mendoza, of Clearwater, was also hospitalized with serious injuries.
Mr. Doth fled the scene on foot but was apprehended shortly thereafter; he is currently in custody at a local hospital.
Tortfeasor Liability in an Alcohol Crash
In a serious injury or fatal crash, first responders often do not administer a breath or blood test because their priority is to administer aid to victims and not collect evidence for a future negligence lawsuit.
Often in these cases, the responding officer will list “alcohol” as a possible contributing factor, but this designation alone may not be enough to establish liability. To do that, circumstantial evidence is often necessary. This evidence may include:
- Odor of Alcohol: Any scent may be enough to prove intoxication in a civil case, because of the lower standard of proof, which is discussed below.
- Previous Stop: When the tortfeasors (negligent drivers) had just come from a bar, restaurant, or party, it is logical to assume that they had been drinking and to also assume they were impaired.
- Erratic driving: Sudden lane changes, inexplicable U-turns, drastic speed variance, and other unusual driving habits are all circumstantial evidence of intoxication.
In criminal court, the prosecutor must prove intoxication beyond a reasonable doubt. But in civil court, the plaintiff need only prove impairment (which begins with as little as one drink) by a preponderance of the evidence, which means more likely than not.
Alcohol Crashes and Third Party Liability
Florida’s dram shop law is not terribly broad, but recovery is still possible in some circumstances.
Most all states have either a legislative or court-created dram shop law, which holds alcohol providers liable for the injuries their intoxicated guests or patrons later cause. The Florida law is strict liability when applied to guests or patrons under 21: a person who “sells or furnishes. . . alcoholic beverages to a person who is not of lawful drinking age” is liable for damages.
Third parties are also liable if they knowingly serve people who are “habitually addicted” to alcohol. This term is not limited to “town drunks” or even heavy drinkers, but is arguably broad enough to include most social or moderate drinkers.
Habitual addiction is much easier to show in social situations, but often also applies to commercial sales. There is no requirement that the person be visibly intoxicated, and the plaintiff need only establish the fact by a preponderance of the evidence.
Contact a Tenacious Attorney
Impaired drivers cause serious injuries and severe property damage. For prompt assistance in this area, contact an experienced Tampa personal injury attorney. Lawyers can arrange for victims to receive ongoing medical care, even if they have no money and no insurance.