A 20-year-old driver, who may have been alcohol-impaired, rear-ended another vehicle at a stoplight and pushed it into a pond of water.

The crash happened in Orange County at the intersection of Waterford Lakes Parkway and Alafaya Trail. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Alexander Chiaravalle of Jupiter was driving a 2014 Kia when he collided with a 1999 Mazda driven by 38-year-old Vanessa Wardia, who was waiting at a stoplight. The force of the collision hurled her car into a pond, and she was trapped inside the partially-submerged vehicle until first responders freed her. Ms. Wardia was rushed to a local hospital with serious injuries.

Mr. Chiaravalle, who refused a breath test, now faces multiple charges, including DUI and reckless driving.

First Party Liability in Alcohol-Related Crashes

In negligence cases, the victim must only prove that the tortfeasor (negligent driver) was impaired; the required burden of proof is only a preponderance of the evidence, which means more likely than not. Since impairment begins at one drink, any evidence that the tortfeasor was drinking is normally sufficient to establish impairment.

A breath or blood test refusal often cripples a criminal DUI prosecution by making it difficult to prove intoxication. But in civil court, circumstantial evidence of impairment carries great weight with the jury. Such evidence includes:

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

Most impaired tortfeasors demonstrate some or all of these symptoms, making it easier for the jury to conclude that alcohol was a factor in the car crash.

Third Party Liability

Like most states, Florida has a dram shop law that holds some bars, saloons, hotels, restaurants, private clubs, and other commercial alcohol providers liable for the damages that their impaired patrons cause.

Dram shops (an old term for alcohol-selling establishments) are strictly liable if the customer is under 21. So, none of the ordinary defenses apply, such as “she looked older than 21” or “he presented an ID that stated he was 21.” The law also applies to a “person” who “furnishes alcoholic beverages” to an underage person, raising the specter of liability for social hosts as well as commercial providers.

Liability also attaches if the person “knowingly serves a person habitually addicted to the use of any or all alcoholic beverages.” To establish the knowledge element, which is not easy to prove, the victim can introduce evidence that the patron:

  • Was a Regular Customer: More than two or three visits to a dram shop is normally evidence of habitual addiction.
  • Was Already Impaired: If the patron exhibited any of the symptoms listed above, it is reasonable to assume that the person had a problem with alcohol.
  • Refused to Leave: People who keep drinking after they are impaired and after they are warned clearly have issues with alcohol use and abuse.

According to respondeat superior, the bar or restaurant is legally responsible for the actions of its serving staff.

Partner with Experienced Attorneys

Alcohol-impaired drivers often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an aggressive personal injury lawyer, 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.