The Party's Over: You and DUI

Can Florida homeowners be held liable if their guests drive home drunk?

By Marilyn Stone

After a party, if you're lucky, you're left with a messy kitchen and a few carpet stains. If you're not so lucky—or weren't vigilant enough—an inebriated guest drives home and injures or kills someone on the way. If the breathalyzer test registers that guest as drunk, you could wake up with a hangover that lasts long after the next morning. The law is raising the ante for drinkers, hosts and parents.

Miami lawyers Robert S. Reiff and Jose Quinon, with nearly a half-century of combined professional experience with DUI cases as prosecutors and defense attorneys, are concerned about the repurcussions hosts and parents face due to a proposed bill. Their concerns are twofold: Drivers are under increased pressure to submit to breathalyzer tests; and test results can't be challenged because they can't be replicated hours after the arrest.

Reiff, author of Drunk Driving and Related Vehicular Offenses, says the accuracy of breathalyzers has been and should be challenged. And yet, proposed legislation (HB 187 (2006)) would rank refusing the breathalyzer test, even if the driver's license has never been suspended, as a first-degree misdemeanor. Currently, the legal system leans toward incarceration, not treatment, for DUI offenders.

"It's an area I foresee exploding in litigation, not only criminally but civilly," Quinon says. In a case Quinon recently defended, two drunk teens had a car accident in which one boy died immediately and the other remains in a coma. Quinon says even the school was named in a civil lawsuit.

"We have to educate people not to drink and drive," says Reiff. "And we must decide if we will deal with it as a legal or medical issue or use a blended approach."

In the meantime, it behooves homeowners to monitor their guests or the aftermath might extend beyond Sunday morning cleanup.

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