Huge Settlement in Case of Drunk Driver Leaving Eagles Club in Okeechobee County FL
In 2010, Leroy Felt had been drinking at his local Eagles Club for over 11 hours when he left in his pickup truck. As he was leaving the parking lot, he pulled directly out in front of a motorcycle being ridden by Rodney Wilde of Sanford. Wilde attempted to avoid Felt’s truck, but hit the rear door. Felt left the scene with Wilde unconscious in the middle of the road and was arrested a few hours later at his home. Police found Felt’s truck with damage to the area that witnesses described Wilde hitting and found a glove Wilde was wearing stuck in the truck’s frame. At his arrest a few hours after the accident, Felt had a BAC .21. Felt was eventually convicted of driving under the influence with serious bodily injury and leaving the scene of an accident with bodily injury and is currently in prison.
On May 16, 2014, a civil case against the Eagles Club that was serving Felt came to a close with an $11.1 million verdict in favor of Wilde for the injuries that he sustained in the accident. Those injuries included head injuries that cause memory issues, trouble with his eyes and trouble standing. The verdict ended up being the largest in Okeechobee County history.
The reason that the Eagles Club was most likely found to be liable for the accident was under Florida’s Dram Shop Act. In many states, any bar that serves someone who is visibly drunk or who is under age would be liable for injuries caused by that person later on because of being drunk. In Florida, however, the law is somewhat different and it decreased the liability that most businesses would have for the drunken actions of its patrons.
Under Florida law, an establishment is liable for serving alcohol to someone who in underage or someone who is a “habitual drunkard”. This means that the standard of many states, that a person who is visibly drunk, does not apply, but rather if the bar knew that someone was an alcoholic. This would be a standard that would be extremely difficult to prove in many cases because it would involve much more knowledge of customers than most establishments that sell alcohol actually have.
The fact that it was an Eagles Club that is the focus of the lawsuit is important here because that is probably where the knowledge of Felt’s drinking habits came in to play. If Felt was a club member and drank like he did the day of the accident at that Eagles Club often, it would be reasonable for the jury to find that he was a known “habitual drunkard” for the purposes of the law.
A club like the Eagles Club is quite different than most establishments that serve alcohol because there are usually the same members drinking there every day and drinking with the same patterns. Someone like felt, who drank for an entire day at the club that day, most likely did it before, meaning that the club should have known that he had an alcohol problem and was liable.