Utah may soon become the first state in the country to lower the BAC limit from .08 to .05 for noncommercial drivers over 21. Could Florida be next?

After passing the House and clearing a Senate panel, House Bill 155 now heads to the full Senate for consideration. Rep. Norm Thurston (R-Provo) said that the current law sends the wrong message, because many people believe that they are still fit to drive after drinking some alcohol. “There is evidence that impairment starts with the very first drink,” he said. Furthermore, more than 100 other countries already have a .05 BAC limit, he added. The measure faces stiff opposition in the Senate. Sarah Longwell, the American Beverage Institute’s managing director, said the bill “will make criminals out of many of our responsible customers,” and Sen. Jim Dabakis (D-Salt Lake City) said the bill would dampen tourism by adding to the state’s “weirdness factor.”

If approved, the measure would take effect on December 30, 2018.

First Party Liability in Alcohol-Related Crashes

Many state advocacy groups, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving, oppose a lower BAC limit, maintaining that such a push would siphon energy away from other areas, such as ignition interlock devices and roadside checkpoints, which the group feels are more effective at lowering alcohol-related car accident fatalities. Most states, including Florida, lowered the BAC from .10 to .08 in the mid-1990s, yet alcohol is still a factor in a third of the fatal crashes in Florida, a proportion that is essentially unchanged from 1993.

In criminal court, prosecutors must prove intoxication beyond a reasonable doubt. But in civil court, victim/plaintiffs must only prove impairment by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). So, much of the circumstantial evidence that is almost meaningless in criminal court is very compelling in negligence cases. Such evidence includes:

  • Erratic driving,
  • Bloodshot eyes,
  • Odor of alcohol,
  • Unsteady balance, and
  • Slurred speech.

As Rep. Thurston pointed out, impairment sets in after one drink, so in civil court, evidence of consumption is tantamount to evidence of impairment.

If the tortfeasor’s (negligent driver’s) BAC is above the legal limit, the negligence per se shortcut normally applies. Essentially, tortfeasors who violate a safety statute, such as DUI, are negligent almost as a matter of law; victims must only prove causation. The jury normally determines whether or not the rule applies in that particular case.

Third Party Liability

In another recent development, a new study concludes that restrictive alcohol policies help curb teen alcohol-related fatalities. Florida’s dram shop law provides such a deterrent, as bars, liquor stores, and other alcohol providers are liable as a matter of law if they sell alcohol to persons under 21.

Florida Statutes 768.125 also contains an evidence-based component which applies to drivers over 21. If victim/plaintiffs can establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the provider knew the tortfeasor was “habitually addicted” to alcohol, the provider is liable for damages.

In all these cases, such damages usually include compensation for economic losses, including medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Punitive damages may be available as well, in high BAC and other extreme instances.

Count On Experienced Attorneys

Alcohol-related crashes cause significant loss of life and personal injury. For a free consultation with an aggressive personal injury lawyer in Brandon, contact Reed & Reed. Home and hospital visits are available.

From our office in Brandon, Reed & Reed helps clients in Tampa, New Tampa, Plant City, East Hillsborough County and throughout the state of Florida.