Every day, about 37 people in the United States die because of a drunk driving accident, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Even more people suffer serious, and in many cases, life altering injuries from traffic crashes caused by drunk drivers. Unfortunately, innocent people are often the ones who are left to pick up the pieces after lives are shattered by a drunk driver’s bad choice to get behind the wheel.
At Howell & Thornhill, P.A., we stand up for those people whose lives are forever changed by the bad decisions of a drunk driver. We offer a free consultation so that you can speak with a Florida drunk driver accident attorney about your case. At this time, we can explain to you what we can do to protect your rights and to help you recover for your loss.
In addition to the pain and grief the comes with a serious loss, many people face fear and uncertainty about future life following a serious accident. Following a crash caused by a drunk driver, your energy should be spent recovering from your injuries or, in the case of the death of a loved one, coping with the loss.
Why Choose Howell & Thornhill to Handle Your Florida Drunk Driver Accident Case?
Because we are a firm built of local practitioners, our attorneys know the area and the communities we serve. We have an in-depth knowledge of the area and the state and local laws that affect our clients.
Our communication skills mean that your questions will be answered by us when they arise. We are committed to providing you with the information it takes to make informed decisions throughout your lawsuit.
Our six locations mean that we can come to you when you reach out for help, whether that be at the hospital, in your home, at a rehabilitation center, or in our office. Wherever you are, we are nearby.
Our team and the resources we provide can help. We are made up of a team of five attorneys, a certified investigator, and a registered nurse. Our skills, knowledge, and experience are at your fingertips.
You only pay us if we win money for you; we are paid from your recovery. Our fees are based on contingency fees, meaning none of the legal fees come out of your pocket.
Holding Drunk Drivers and Enablers Responsible
Impaired drivers are operating a motor vehicle when they should not be, since their ability to start, stop, or make snap decisions while driving is dulled. Alcohol impaired drivers cause accidents that could always be prevented. Drivers who are under the influence significantly lack the ability to avoid accidents by making safe choices while behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.
When drunk driver harms someone, we believe in holding the drunk driver responsible to the fullest extent of the law. That starts with doing a thorough investigation of the facts and, when possible, working with law enforcement to preserve evidence necessary to hold the driver accountable.
Unfortunately, in Florida, motorists are not required to carry liability insurance as part of the auto insurance policies. This means that, even though a drunk driver may be subject to criminal penalties for hurting someone while driving under the influence, recovering compensatory damages for the injured person may be very difficult if the drunk driver has no insurance, or has only minimal insurance coverage.
Therefore, it is also important to investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident to discover if there were others who assumed responsibility for the drunk driver, but then failed to follow through to keep people safe. In certain cases, those who enabled the drunk driver may also be liable.
If the driver was drinking and driving while on the job, or driving a work vehicle with permission, the employer may be liable. This is particularly true if the employer turned a blind eye to the driver’s drinking habits, or if the employer failed to follow appropriate steps to make sure the driver was safe before putting him on the road. For instance, jobs require a clean driving history. If the employer failed to check, and therefore missed a bad driving history with recent instances of DUI arrests or similar events, the employer may be liable for putting a dangerous driver on the road.
Florida law recognizes something referred to as the dangerous instrumentality doctrine. Under this rule, the owner who entrusts a vehicle to another person is responsible when the driver who borrowed the vehicle is negligent and harms someone else with the vehicle. The dangerous instrumentality doctrine is not limited to accidents involving drunk drivers. It applies whenever the owner loans a vehicle to another person, who then negligently causes a crash while driving the vehicle.
Dram Shop Liability
If it turns out the drunk driver is under age, or that the drunk driver is addicted to alcohol, then the person or establishment who furnished alcohol may also share responsibility for the harms caused by the drunk driver. This does not mean that every bar, restaurant, or other establishment who serves alcohol will be liable for the bad acts of a drunk driver. Florida law protects bars, restaurants, and other hosts who serve alcohol from liability for the acts of a drunk driver, subject to two important exceptions. First, a person who willfully and unlawfully sells or furnishes to an underage person is liable for harms caused by the underage drinker. And second, a person who knowingly serves a person who is habitually addicted to alcohol is also liable for harms caused by the alcoholic driver.
Most of the time, the people running the bar or restaurant are not going to admit that they knowingly served a minor, or that they knew the patron served at the bar was an alcoholic. So, it becomes very important to do a thorough investigation of the facts and the evidence. Evidence of behavior can overcome denials of knowledge. This type of evidence is referred to as circumstantial evidence.
Circumstantial evidence can be sufficient to prove that a vendor knowingly served a person addicted to alcohol. Years ago, a drunk driver seriously injured a woman after having several drinks at a place called the People’s Restaurant and Bar. The woman sued, but the trial court ruled for the bar because nobody at the bar would admit to knowing the driver was an alcoholic. The case went up on appeal to the Florida Supreme Court. The Supreme Court overturned the trial court’s decision, because the injured woman had presented evidence that the driver had gone to People’s several times per week, for months leading up to the accident. Each time, he would drink so much that his speech slurred, his eyes got red, and he became unsteady on his feet. Even though the bartenders knew him well, they never cut him off. In fact, they would pour him his favorite drink as soon as he came through the door. During happy hour, they would pour him doubles. The Supreme Court explained that these facts were sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude the employees knew the driver was habitually addicted to alcohol.
On the other hand, simply serving several drinks to a person on one particular night will not be enough, by itself, to prove the establishment knowing served a person habitually addicted to alcohol. Thus, it is critical to look into all of the facts and circumstances of the driver’s drinking history, in order to properly evaluate whether the establishment serving the drinks also shares responsibility. Howell & Thornhill has successfully handled cases against a bar, which are called “dram shop cases.”
Given the complex law surrounding drunk driving accidents, it is critical that evidence be preserved. Not only must details of the traffic crash itself be maintained, but evidence regarding the drunk driver’s whereabouts, history, and drinking habits must not be destroyed. Quickly taking steps to require the preservation of this evidence is a key part of any case involving a drunk driving accident.
Working with Insurance Companies Following a Drunk Driver Accident
To operate legally, most bars and restaurants must carry certain types of insurance. These insurance companies are experienced and well-versed in providing protection to their insureds. Communications with them must be made with care, in order to preserve and protect your rights.
A Lawsuit May Allow You to Recover More in Damages After a Drunk Driving Accident
Each crash has its own specific challenges. If you are in a position to seek reimbursement through a lawsuit, you might have compensation available to you. The damages you can recover will depend upon the harms and losses suffered. You will want to speak with your Florida drunk driving accident attorney to get an idea of exactly what applies to your case.
Contact a Florida Drunk Driving Accident Attorney as Soon as Possible
If you or a loved one have been injured, or a family member has been killed in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, it is important that you contact Howell & Thornhill as soon as possible. We will ensure that your rights are protected, and we will diligently and tenaciously pursue the damages to which you are entitled to receive due to the acts of a drunk driver in the state of Florida.