Just when things seemed to be on the upswing for famous golfer Tiger Woods, he was recently sued in a wrongful death lawsuit. Also named as Defendants are the bar he owns in Florida (The Woods), and his girlfriend, Erica Herman, the bar’s general manager.
According to the lawsuit, Nicholas Immesberger was a bartender at The Woods. His parents allege that he drank heavily after finishing his shift, becoming intoxicated. He left the bar behind the wheel, and was involved in a one-car accident. His blood alcohol was .256, over three times the legal limit. Immesberger was killed in the accident.
These “over service” of alcohol cases are dram shop cases: civil lawsuits that attempt to tag a bar or restaurant with liability for over service of alcohol. North Carolina has dram shop laws; Florida, where Woods’ bar is located, does too. Only Florida dram shop laws have an incredibly high standard to show the bar was responsible: the party bringing the suit must prove that the intoxicated person was a “habitual drunkard.” It is the spring break state after all: Florida promotes tourism, and with tourism, comes alcohol sales.
In addition to the high legal standard that Immesberger’s parents will have to prove to prevail in the case, there are several other hurdles they face. Perhaps the largest is that this is a first party dram shop case: the person who became intoxicated was the one who was involved in the accident and was killed. This case would be much stronger if an innocent third party encountered Immesberger on the highway that night and was injured or killed. Also, if Immesberger was a “habitual drunkard,” why was he working at a bar? This case screams personal responsibility as a trial theme if it ends up in front of a jury.
As an additional hurdle, there does not seem to be any basis to “pierce the corporate veil” and proceed against Woods and Herman individually. If this case does go to a jury, as opposed to being dismissed by the Court or settled out of Court, I anticipate that it will only be against the bar.
For me personally, from a legal standpoint, the Defendants should prevail in this one.
This does not constitute legal advice. Please seek counsel from a legal professional to assess your specific situation.
Deedee Gasch has over a decade of experience litigating catastrophic claims involving serious injury or death. While Deedee’s practice is primarily focused on the defense of premises liability, trucking and commercial vehicle accidents, and medical malpractice, she also has a wide range of civil litigation experience. She spent approximately half of her career representing injured plaintiffs before returning to her first love of civil litigation defense work. This experience on both sides of a case uniquely situates her in negotiations and at trial if settlement is not possible. Deedee is a third-generation Tar Heel and attorney, following in the footsteps of her grandfather, a North Carolina Resident Superior Court Judge (deceased), and her father, a career trial lawyer. She has dual degrees in Journalism and Political Science and earned her law degree cum laude from Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville, Florida, where she attended on a prestigious merit based scholarship. She is licensed to practice law in both North Carolina and Florida.
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