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Your Legal Options if A Drunk Driver Hits You in Florida

Offered by Pajcic & Pajcic

Victims can pursue compensation through the civil justice system

By now, every motorist knows the dangers of driving under the influence, but some still ignore the law. Drunk driving is regularly among the leading causes of serious and fatal car accidents in Florida and nationwide. No matter how careful you are behind the wheel, a drunk driver can change your life forever in an instant.

That’s why victims need to know their legal rights and options. If a drunk driver hits you in Florida, here’s what you need to know.

Take immediate action to protect your legal rights

As with any car accident, your top priority should be safety. Make sure the scene is safe, then call the police. Don’t confront the drunk driver on your own; if they flee the scene (unfortunately common), don’t pursue. Get as many details about their vehicle as possible and let the police handle the rest.

Get the investigating officer’s name, badge number, and contact information for any witnesses. Take pictures of the scene, visible injuries, and other evidence such as vehicle damage or skid marks. You may think you don’t need to do this because the police are already conducting a DUI investigation, but remember that your potential civil case is distinct from the State of Florida’s DUI case.

You need to get medical attention as soon as possible. Seeking prompt medical treatment not only protects your health but also creates a record of your injuries. And you need to contact an attorney as soon as possible, ideally before you talk to an insurance company.

Can you sue a drunk driver in Florida?

The short answer is usually yes.

Again, your liability claim or civil lawsuit is distinct from any DUI charges that the State of Florida may bring against the drunk driver. In particular, there is a lower standard of proof in civil court: you only need to show a preponderance of the evidence, which essentially means anything over 50% probability that the other driver caused your injuries, in order to recover.

Criminal courts, in contrast, use the much higher beyond reasonable doubt standard. This means it’s possible to recover compensation for your drunk driving accident in civil court even if the drunk driver is acquitted or charges are dropped in criminal court.

A more practical consideration is that the drunk driver may not have enough available insurance to cover the full cost of a severe or fatal injury. However, Florida law gives victims additional legal options in some circumstances.

What is a “dram shop” claim in Florida?

A “dram shop” claim is a claim against an establishment or vendor, such as a bar, restaurant, or hotel, that served alcohol to a drunk driver who caused an accident. Florida’s dram shop law makes establishments liable under two circumstances:

  • The establishment served alcohol to a minor under age 21, or
  • The establishment served alcohol to an adult “habitually addicted to the use of any or all alcoholic beverages.”

Notably, unlike many states, Florida does not hold establishments liable for serving alcohol to someone who is visibly intoxicated.

To win a dram shop case in Florida, you need to prove that the establishment served alcohol to someone under 21 who caused your accident or that the establishment knew, or should have known, that the drunk driver had an alcohol addiction.

These are difficult, factually intensive cases, but they can be won with the right attorney on your side. For instance, in one representative case, Pajcic & Pajcic recovered $950,000 from a restaurant that negligently served alcohol to a 20-year-old driver.

In some circumstances, there may be other sources of compensation

In some scenarios, holding the drunk driver’s employer accountable for their actions is possible. For instance, an employer may be liable if it fails to conduct background checks before entrusting an employee with a commercial vehicle, serves alcohol at a company function, or knowingly allows employees to drink on the job. In one such scenario, Pajcic & Pajcic recovered $1.25 million from a grading contractor that knew or should have known its employees had a habit of drinking heavily when work was rained out.

As with any other car accident, there may be other negligent parties, such as the manufacturer of a defective vehicle, the business responsible for maintenance of the road, or the driver of another involved vehicle. The key is to have an experienced attorney thoroughly investigate your accident and uncover all sources of compensation.

Talk to a lawyer about your legal options

Remember, while the police and prosecutors play an important role in dealing with drunk drivers, their job is to prosecute the offenders, not to advocate for compensation for victims. Even if the driver who hit you was drunk, your civil case may not be open and shut. It’s critical that you have an attorney on your side advocating for your interests throughout the process.

If you were injured or lost a loved one in a drunk driving accident, you may have legal recourse, but you need the right representation to pursue justice. Talk to an experienced Florida car accident attorney in your area today.

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Founded in 1974 by Steve and Gary Pajcic, Pajcic & Pajcic represents injured people in Jacksonville, throughout Florida, and nationwide. We’ve handled over 10,000 cases and recove...