Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal decision paves way for trial over club's liability for drunk driving death

By David Hutton | Jul 26, 2017

DAYTONA BEACH — Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal has overturned a lower court’s ruling for summary judgment in a wrongful death lawsuit, paving the way for a trial to determine whether a Winter Garden golf club can be held liable for damages in a woman’s death.

Beatriz Gonzalez was killed when Nathan Hartman crashed into the car she was driving after he had consumed alcohol at the Stoneybrook West Golf Club.

Hartman, who was frequented Florida’s Stoneybrook West Golf Club, had imbibed enough alcohol to register a blood alcohol level of .302, according to the appeals court decision.

Jorge Gonzalez, representing the estate of Beatriz Gonzalez, filed a lawsuit claiming that the club should be held liable.

In seeking summary judgment, the club argued that it was not liable. It claimed that Florida’s dram shop statute held that a seller of alcohol would not be liable under the state's reverse dram shop liability statue unless it knew the purchaser was "habitually addicted" to alcohol. The club argued that had no knowledge of Hartman's addiction.

Gonzalez maintained that Hartman routinely played golf at Stoneybrook and purchased alcohol from Stoneybrook employees, who allegedly knew about his alcohol addiction.

In the complaint, Gonzalez sought damages for the wrongful death of the Beatriz Gonzalez against Stoneybrook.

In its opinion, the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal pointed out that Gonzalez could potentially prove during a trial that the club may have been aware of Hartman’s drinking problem. 

Several depositions—from David Ziglar, a friend of Hartman, and several Stoneybrook employees—established that Hartman had played golf at the club approximately 70 to 80 times over a three-year period prior to the crash.

Ziglar testified in his deposition that Hartman was intoxicated virtually each time they played together at Stoneybrook. He added that Hartman normally started the day by drinking two strongly poured whiskey and Cokes in 16-ounce Styrofoam cups poured by bartenders who were familiar with Hartman.

As they would reach the midpoint in their golf round, Ziglar stated that Hartman normally went to the clubhouse and purchased another strongly poured 16-ounce whiskey and Coke and would often buy additional drinks from the cart girl, a Stoneybrook employee.

Ziglar testified that, on the day of the crash, Hartman had four such drinks, including approximately eight ounces of straight alcohol poured by the cart girl on the course. 

Citing Ellis v. N.G.N. of Tampa Inc., the appellate court ruled that “serving an individual a substantial number of drinks on multiple occasions would be circumstantial evidence to be considered by the jury in determining whether the vendor knew that the person was a habitual drunkard.”

As a result, the court conclude that Gonzalez offered sufficient evidence to raise a factual dispute not resolvable by summary judgment.

The appeals court reversed the summary judgment and remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.

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Florida 5th District Court of Appeal Stoneybrook West Golf Club

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