Recently a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Florida personal injury case requiring the court to decide whether an accident victim could still recover for their injuries when they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol when the accident occurred. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff appealed a trial court decision that found him unable to recover any damages after being injured in a motor vehicle accident because he was under the influence of an alcoholic beverage at the time. As required by law, the trial jury apportioned liability amongst the plaintiff and defendant. They assigned 55 percent negligence to the plaintiff and 45 percent negligence to the defendant.
Generally, Florida is considered a “pure comparative” negligence state. In pure comparative negligence states, plaintiffs can recover compensation from another party, unless the plaintiff is the only one to blame for the accident. In theory, this means that a plaintiff can recover compensation for their injuries even if they are 99 percent at fault. However, their proportionate level of fault reduces the total damage award. The “drug and alcohol” defense, contained in Florida Statutes section 768.36, is an exception to this general rule.
In such cases, the court can preclude the plaintiff’s recovery if the defendant can establish that the plaintiff was more than 50 percent at fault for the accident and their injury occurred when they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol or their blood or breath alcohol level was .08 or higher. Most importantly, the jury must also find that the influence of the alcoholic beverage or drug caused the plaintiff to be more than 50 percent at fault for their injuries. Each of these requirements must be met for the defense to apply.