Court: Federal Maritime Law Won’t Apply to DUI Case

Texas and Florida are similar in many ways. Both are among the largest and most populous states in the nation, and both have considerable coastlines along the Gulf of Mexico.
This is why the plaintiffs in Schlumberger Tech. Corp. v. Arthey sought to take action under federal maritime law.
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However, Fort Lauderdale DUI accident lawyers know one way in which these two states vary dramatically is the scope of justice available for crash victims through the civil court system.

In Florida, victims of DUI crashes have the option to pursue damages not only from the at-fault driver and his insurer, but also in some cases from the person who provided the alcohol to that driver. These are known as “social host liability laws” or alternatively “dram shop laws.” Those injured in Texas, however, don’t have this option.

This is why the plaintiffs in Schlumberger Tech. Corp. v. Arthey sought to take action under federal maritime law.

The Texas Supreme Court’s ruling in this case is relevant here in Florida for the precedent it sets when alcohol consumption occurs on the water, but the injury itself appears on land.

Here’s what happened:

A Texas business set up a retreat for its executives, a few business partners and some salesmen at a lodge near the Gulf of Mexico. From Wednesday through Friday, the company foot the bill for meals, open bar and eight- to- 10-hour stretches on chartered boats, driven by guides. Neither the lodge nor the boat charter company provided alcohol to those on the boats, though the business indicated it would “make it happen” if guests requested it. They did. The company made it happen.

On the morning of the last day of the retreat, an attending business partner from another firm boarded a fishing boat in the morning with another attendee from the retreat. For several hours while on the boat, the partner imbibed. He slept part of the time as well.

Upon returning, the partner gathered his belongings, got into his car and headed home. After he’d driving some 40 miles, he crashed. He struck a motorcyclist and a passenger. Both were seriously injured, and were required to undergo leg amputations.

Three hours after the crash, the partner’s blood-alcohol limit was three times above the legal threshold. A legal expert indicated the driver could not have drank enough after exiting the boat for his intoxication level to be that high.

The motorcyclist and his passenger sued the business that hosted the retreat, arguing the company negligently allowed excessive drinking by those in attendance. Texas doesn’t recognize social host liability, as we mentioned before. However, the couple insisted federal maritime law was applicable because the partner had gotten drunk while out on the water.

A trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defense. The appellate court reversed. The state supreme court reversed again, finding that maritime law would only be applicable if the actual tort – i.e., the crash – occurred on the water.

Citing the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Jerome B. Grubart, Inc. v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., the court denied the assertion that there was admiralty jurisdiction.

Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:
Schlumberger Tech. Corp. v. Arthey, June 20, 2014, Texas Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Foreseeable Zone of Risk Challenged in Injury Case, May 25, 2014, Fort Lauderdale Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer Blog