The Texas Supreme Court has issued a ruling holding that maritime law is not applicable in drunk driving cases where the drinking may have occurred on a boat, but where the actual tort (i.e., crash) occurred on land.
Fort Myers drunk driving accident lawyers are hopeful this ruling won’t have a significant impact here in Florida, despite the fact that we share a general geographical makeup with Texas that includes large swaths of coastline.
The reason we are hopeful is that Florida has social host liability laws in place. Texas does not, and it was for this reason that plaintiffs in that case pursued the maritime law angle. Social host liability laws vary significantly, but ours basically hold those who serve alcohol to minors or alcoholics liable for third-party injuries that result. (See Florida Statute 768.125.)
Still, it’s worthwhile to understand why the court reached its conclusion, as it is possible similar issues could arise in Florida courts.
In the case of Schlumberger Tech. Corp. v. Arthey, the state high court was tasked with deciding whether a company that sponsored a three-day corporate retreat, in which copious amounts of alcohol were served both on land and on charter fishing boats, was responsible for a subsequent traffic accident that seriously injured two motorists.
Invitees included top administrators, business partners and salesmen. The lodge at which the guests stayed did not provide alcohol, but the corporate sponsor did.
One guest was employed by a company that contracted to do millions of dollars worth of business with the corporate sponsor. On Friday morning, he, an employee of the sponsor and a fishing guide left the lodge on a fishing boat where alcohol was available. While aboard, the two guests drank.
The trio was out on the water for three or four hours before returning to the lodge. At that time, the worker gathered his things, got into his vehicle and set off to drive home.
Around 2:30 p.m., after he had driven some 50 miles toward his destination, the man crossed into the opposing lane and slammed into a motorcycle with two riders.
Other motorists said they had seen him driving erratically, but officers did not note the smell of alcohol on his breath. Still, when he was taken to the hospital, medical staff noted his blood-alcohol level was 0.25 percent, more than three times the legal limit. In a deposition, he told plaintiff lawyers that he was “significantly intoxicated.”
The two motorcyclists each suffered significant injuries, and both had to have their right legs amputated.
The driver was convicted of a third-degree felony and given probation.
The motorcyclists filed a civil lawsuit naming him, as well as the corporate sponsor, as defendants. The plaintiffs conceded Texas’ lack of a social host liability law, but argued federal maritime law was applicable because the driver became drunk while on the boat in federal waters.
The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the corporate sponsor. However, the court of appeals reversed and remanded (though in a split decision). The case then went before the Texas Supreme Court.
The test, per the 1995 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Jerome B. Grubart, Inc. v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. et al, holds the tort must have occurred in navigable waters.
The plaintiffs argued the tort occurred when the corporate sponsor failed to prevent its guest from drinking just prior to driving home, and that because he was drinking on a boat, there was evidence this duty was breached in federal waters.
However, thee state court rejected this theory, holding that the tort in question was the crash, which unquestionably occurred on land.
If you have been injured in a drunk driving accident in Fort Myers, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Schlumberger Tech. Corp. v. Arthey,June 20, 2014, Texas Supreme Court
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