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Tiger Woods, Girl Friend, Named in Wrongful Death Lawsuit

According to a report carried on TMZ Sports, Tiger Woods and girlfriend Erica Herman have been named as defendants in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of one of the restaurant’s bartenders who was killed in a single-vehicle DUI crash on December 10, 2018.

In this post, the DUI/DWI lawyer at The Doan Law Firm will discuss this accident from the viewpoint of Florida’s “Dram Shop Law” and how that law might apply in this case. He will then review why the victims of accidents where Dram Shop Law should always seek the advice of an experienced DUI/DWI accident personal injury lawyer, since Dram Shop laws can have a significant impact on the success or failure of similar lawsuits.

The Accident

The following summary of the accident is compiled from reports published by TMZ Sports and the Treasure Coast News

At the time of his death, Nicholas Immesberger, 24, was employed as a bartender at The Woods, a restaurant / sports bar owned by golfer Tiger Woods and managed by Woods’ “girlfriend,” Erica Herman.

On December 10, 2019 Immesberger finished his shift at The Woods but, rather than leaving, elected to remain at the establishment for “several hours” where he was served alcohol to the point of “severe intoxication” before “… he was “sent out to his car to drive home.” (TMZ)

Shortly after 6:00 p.m. Immesberger was observed to be traveling “at a high rate of speed” when he lost control of his 1999 Corvette before crossing three lanes of traffic and “going airborne.” According to the Florida State Patrol, Immesberger died at the scene. A toxicology report on a blood sample obtained at autopsy demonstrated Immesberger’s blood alcohol level was 0.256, which is just over three times the amount required to convict on a DUI charge in Florida. ( Treasure Coast News)

Despite the fact that one of the defendants named in this lawsuit is one of the most recognizable figures in the professional golfing universe, it also raises several legal issues that could apply in any lawsuit where “overserving” of alcoholic beverages is alleged to have been a factor in a traffic accident. The most significant of these issues is to what extent Florida’s “Dram Shop Law” may come into play.

Florida’s Dram Shop Law

The term “dram shop” is rarely heard in day-to-day conversation but is frequently encountered in discussions relating to law. In its legal sense, a dram shop is any business (such as a bar, tavern, restaurant, package store, or even a convenience store) where alcohol is served to patrons and/or customers who are legally able to make such purchases. [n.b. The term comes from the English/Colonial American term describing an establishment where alcohol was sold “ by the dram”]

In most states, a dram shop law specifically holds an establishment to be legally liable if an “obviously intoxicated” customer is served alcoholic beverages (by the drink) or is allowed to otherwise to purchase alcohol (in pre-measured packages). Some states, however, specifically prohibit lawsuits that name a “dram shop” and its employees as defendants. Florida is one of those states, and its dram shop law reads as follows:

A person who sells or furnishes alcoholic beverages to a person of lawful drinking age shall not thereby become liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such person, except that a person who willfully and unlawfully sells or furnishes alcoholic beverages to a person who is not of lawful drinking age or who knowingly serves a person habitually addicted to the use of any or all alcoholic beverages may become liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such minor or person. ( Florida Statutes section 768.125)

Note that, by the way the above-quoted law is “worded,” a social host (someone who serves alcohol at a party or similar gathering) is also protected against being held liable so long as they do not serve someone who is otherwise disqualified from purchasing and/or consuming alcohol!

Legal Issues

At first glance, the Immesberger’s do not seem to have much of a chance of being successful in their lawsuit. However, Florida law does allow dram shop lawsuits if the victim was 1) below the legal age to purchase alcohol or, was 2) was “&hellip a person habitually addicted to the use of any or all alcoholic beverages …! It is the latter provision that the Immesberger’s hope to prove, or indeed must prove, if they are to the defendants liable for their son’s death.

The Immesberger’s concede that their son had a history of alcohol abuse but, the limited information available at this time, it is unknown if he had been treated for chronic alcoholism. The family does, however, allege that Woods and Herman “reasonably should have known” of their sons problems with alcohol because, among other things, the three had drank together in the past and would therefore have had the opportunity to observe his behavior as typical of someone “habitually addicted.” If that allegation can be demonstrated to the satisfaction of a court, it would mean that the dram shop law would not apply and the lawsuit would be allowed.

We will post updates to this story as they become available.

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