Should businesses be held liable for over-serving patrons alcohol?

At least 32 states have liability laws; Florida's has caveat

ORLANDO, Fla. – Vanessa Barbella doesn't remember much about the crash that killed her friend, 21-year-old Felipe Medina, and left her badly injured.

"I just remember seeing headlights and thinking those shouldn't be coming at us," she said.

Barbella and Medina were on his motorcycle when an alleged drunken driver turned left on Lake Underhill Road, right into the path of the motorcycle.

"You know, my life was pretty much perfect before this," a tearful Barbella told News 6's Louis Bolden. "I still don’t understand it."

State troopers say the man behind the wheel was 30-year-old Justin Spencer.

Spencer took a Breathalyzer test after the crash and blew 0.237, nearly three times the legal limit, according to his arrest report.

"That was really kind of heartbreaking," Barbella said, "because at that point it's just a conscious decision.
You got behind the wheel at that level of intoxication. It's a decision. It’s not an accident anymore."

Spencer is now facing criminal charges.

Medina and Barbella have now filed a personal injury and wrongful death lawsuit against Chilli's in Lake Mary and The Hammered Lamb.
Spencer told troopers he was at work at Chillis and had been drinking.

The lawsuit alleges both establishments served alcohol to Spencer despite the fact that he was already intoxicated.

Attorney Trenton Swan is representing Barbella and the Medina family.

"The businesses are making profits off alcohol sales, but they should do so responsibly," Swan said.

At least 32 states have laws that allow vendors to be held criminally or civilly liable for serving someone who's "visibly intoxicated."

However, Florida does not.

Florida law reserves liability for serving someone who is "habitually addicted," legally proving that is more difficult.

"We think that the evidence will show by the time it gets to jury that the driver, in this case, was habitually addicted to alcohol and that those establishments that served him should be found liable for his actions," Swan said

Swan told News 6 Florida law protects businesses and offers little deterrent, not to over serve.

Barbella said she wants businesses to be held accountable and those who are drinking to think twice before getting behind the wheel.

"You could affect someone's lives so irreversibly, that you’re dealing with it for the rest of your life,” she said.

Attorneys for The Hammered Lamb sent us a statement. “Although we are sympathetic to the Plaintiffs and their families, the evidence developed in this lawsuit clearly establishes that the Hammered Lamb is not responsible for the injuries that were sustained by the Plaintiffs. None of the Hammered Lamb employees had any familiarity with Mr. Spencer or his drinking habits.”

Chilli’s attorney declined to comment.

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