The Florida Supreme Court will hear a case brought forward by the guardian of Jacquelyn Faircloth. The case involves a 2014 accident in which Faircloth was struck by a pickup truck after drinking at a Tallahassee bar.
Faircloth, who was 18 at the time, reportedly drank alcohol at a bar called Cantina 101 until she was intoxicated and then exited out into the street. After leaving the bar, Faircloth was struck by Devon Dwyer, who was 20. Dwyer was reportedly also intoxicated when he hit her with his truck, and had been drinking at another bar, called Potbelly’s.
Faircloth’s guardian is seeking damages from the owners of both establishments, arguing that the bars essentially caused the accident by serving alcohol to minors.
A circuit court judge issued a default judgment against Cantina 101 in February after the establishment failed to respond to the court summons. This judgment found that the bars were both jointly and separately on the hook for $28.6 million in damages, which means they could be held individually or collectively liable to pay the damages.
The owners of Potbelly’s have argued the circuit court judge unfairly threw out the comparative fault defense put forth by their lawyers. A panel of judges on the appeals court agreed, saying that the case deals with negligence.
As such, fault can be shared between parties, and Potbelly’s might not be found individually liable for the damages. This is an important distinction when millions of dollars are on the line.
Faircloth’s guardian disagrees with the appeals court and has argued that the bar should be held liable for the accident. The case will go before the Florida Supreme Court, where it could set a fascinating precedent for the culpability of bars in cases of negligence. Notably, the case has only proceeded this far because both people involved in the accident were minors when the bars served them.
Typically, eating establishments can’t be held liable for accidents that take place after patrons imbibe alcohol under their roofs. It’s commonly understood that adults need to make responsible decisions regarding their alcohol intake and that any decisions they make after becoming intoxicated are their own.
However, since Fairchild and Dwyer were both underage, lawyers have argued that the bars are culpable for the outcome of the accident. Had the bartenders at either establishment refused the two service, it’s possible the accident could have never occurred.