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Drunk Driving Wrongful Death Lawsuit Derailed Over Pre-Trial Notice Issue

A family seeking to hold accountable the strip club that served alcohol to an already-drunk off-duty officer who then drove drunk, crashed and killed their beloved husband and father is confronting a major setback, following a recent decision by the Alabama Supreme Court.
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Following the officer’s criminal conviction, the family of the minister he killed pursued civil action against both the officer, based on general negligence, and the strip club, via the state’s dram shop laws.

Broward County DUI injury lawyers note that dram shop laws vary from state-to-state, but the statutes in Alabama and Florida are comparable.

Here in Florida, FL Statute 768.125 holds that a person who furnishes alcohol to either a minor or someone known to be habitually addicted to alcohol may be held liable for any injuries or damages caused by or resulting from the intoxication of that person. Alabama law is a bit broader, allowing for damages to be sought regardless of whether the drunk driver was a minor or an alcoholic.

In the case of Volcano Enterprises, Inc. v. Rush, the officer was reportedly drinking alcohol in the parking lot prior to entering the strip club after finishing his shift that evening. He was allegedly already drunk when he walked into the club.

The bartender continued to serve him for several hours before the officer left, got into his vehicle and drove away. At the time of the crash, he was reportedly traveling some 120 mph. The victim, a minister, was on his way home from church. He was killed instantly.

In suing the owner of the club, the family asserted that it had a responsibility to refrain from serving the off-duty officer.

However, in filing the lawsuit, the plaintiff had a tough time locating the club owner. Attorneys hired a process servicing firm to serve notice of the pending litigation to the owner. However, this service apparently did not do a thorough job. The club owner’s home address had been destroyed in a natural disaster, and the servicer was unable to find a forwarding address. An agent was dispatched to the club on a few occasions in attempt to serve court papers, but the owner wasn’t there on those occasions.

Based on this, the plaintiff asked for – and was granted- permission to serve notice via publication.

The case proceeded, and the plaintiff won – $37 million against the club owner, who never showed up to court to defend himself. However, upon learning of the verdict, he appealed.

The appellate court agreed that the plaintiff hadn’t done enough to make sure that the defendant received notice of the lawsuit. Clearly, this error wasn’t harmless because the defendant did not have the opportunity to formulate a defense.

The court further indicated that if the defendant had been actively dodging service of the complaint, it was up to the plaintiff to prove that in court, which it did not.

As such, the verdict was reversed.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:
Volcano Enterprises, Inc. v. Rush, May 9, 2014, Alabama Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
New Approach to Fort Lauderdale DUI Crash Prevention Proposed, April 27, 2014, Broward Drunk Driving Injury Lawyer Blog

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