In a case that holds relevance for drunk driving victims in Florida, a state surrounded by water, the Texas Supreme Court refused to apply federal maritime law to a drunk driving case involving a person who became intoxicated while aboard a boat.
Our Fort Lauderdale drunk driving accident lawyers are hopeful the impact of the decision in Schlumberger Tech. Corp. v. Arthey won’t be too great in Florida for two reasons. One, the decision by Texas’ highest court doesn’t have a direct impact on the determinations made in Florida courts. But perhaps more importantly in this case, Florida recognizes social host liability, whereas Texas does not.
The lack of social host liability laws in Texas was what led the plaintiffs to pursue this action the way they did.
Florida’s Social Host Liability laws (also sometimes referred to as “Dram Shop Laws”) are codified in Florida Statute 768.125. The law allows personal injury action to be taken by injured third parties against individuals who supply alcohol to persons underage or to someone who is known to be habitually addicted to the use of alcohol.
In the Schlumberger case, no such protections exist.
According to court records, the defendant, a business, invited its employees, business partners and salesman to a retreat at its own expenses at a lodge situated on the Gulf of Mexico. Guests were invited to free meals, an open bar and eight to 10 hours of daily guided bay fishing. The company also provided alcoholic beverages to guests while on the boats, at the guests’ request.
One of those guests went out on a boat one morning for about three hours, consuming alcohol while aboard the vessel. After returning to the lodge, the guest gathered his things and left to drive home. After driving for approximately 40 miles, he drifted into oncoming traffic, slamming into a motorcycle. The two people on the bike sustained serious injuries, and each lost a leg.
Three hours after the crash, the driver’s blood-alcohol level was estimated to be at 0.25 percent.
The driver conceded he was very drunk at the time of the crash. He was convicted of a third-degree felony and sentenced to probation.
The plaintiffs later filed a lawsuit against the company that hosted the event, alleging the firm negligently allowed guests to drink excessively. Although Texas lacks a Dram Shop law, the plaintiffs asserted federal maritime law should govern because the driver had gotten intoxicated while on the boat that morning.
The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant. A divided appellate court reversed and remanded. The company appealed to the state supreme court.
The court indicated that in order for federal maritime law to apply, the tort itself would have had to occur in admiralty jurisdiction. By this standard, the action did not fall under admiralty jurisdiction.
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Schlumberger Tech. Corp. v. Arthey, June 20, 2014, Texas Supreme Court
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