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Florida Fifth DCA holds that vendor's history of serving a substantial number of drinks to at-fault driver on multiple occasions precluded summary judgment for vendor in reverse dram shop act case

On July 14, 2017, in Gonzalez v. Stonybrooke West Golf Club, No. 5D16-2680, the Florida Fifth DCA reversed the circuit court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of a defendant golf course proprietor in a reverse dram shop act case. The defendant had served alcohol to a customer who later was involved in an automobile accident the killed the decedent. The decedent’s personal representative sued the defendant under Florida’s reverse dram shop act statute, section 768.125, which provides that that a vendor serving alcoholic beverages is not liable for damages resulting from a purchaser’s intoxication unless the vendor serves the purchaser knowing that he or she is habitually addicted to alcohol. Deposition testimony alleged that the at-fault driver was a frequent patron of the club who had been served a substantial number of drinks on multiple occasions. In fact, one playing partner testified that the at-fault driver was intoxicated virtually every time they played together. The Fifth DCA noted that under the habitual drunkard exception, the plaintiff must present evidence that the vendor knew that the alcohol purchaser was a habitual drunkard. Evans v. McCabe 415, Inc. 168, So. 3d 238, 239 (Fla. 5th DCA 2015) (citing Ellis v. N.G.N. of Tampa, Inc., 586 So. 2d 1042, 1048 (Fla. 1991). This knowledge element may be met by the presentation of sufficient circumstantial evidence. Ellis, 586 So. 2d at 1048-49 (citing Sabo v. Shamrock Commc’ns, Inc., 566 So. 2d 267, 269 (Fla. 5th DCA 1990), approved sub nom. Peoples Rest. v. Sabo, 591 So. 2d 907 (Fla. 1991)). As stated in Ellis, “serving an individual a substantial number of drinks on multiple occasions would be circumstantial evidence to be considered by the jury in determining whether the vendor knew that the person was a habitual drunkard.” Id. at 1048.