Jury To Determine Whether Club Should Be Held Liable For Driver’s Death At The Hands Of Intoxicated Golfer

By: Rob Harris

Nathan Hartman was a frequent golfer at Florida’s Stoneybrook West Golf Club. Following a round of golf during or after which Mr. Hartman consumed enough alcohol to register a .302 blood alcohol content, he plowed into the car of Beatriz Gonzalez, killing her.

The club persuaded the trial court that it could not be held liable for the accident, invoking Florida’s dram shop statute–similar to one found on the books of many states–which provided that the purveyor of alcohol would not be liable “for damages resulting from a purchaser’s intoxication unless the vendor serves the purchaser knowing that he or she is habitually addicted to alcohol.”

The appellate court, however, recently determined that a trial is necessary to determine whether the club can escape liability. Of importance to the appellate court were facts demonstrating that the club, indeed, may have been aware of Mr. Hartman’s drinking problem.  According to the court,

depositions established that Hartman had played golf at the club approximately seventy to eighty times over a three-year period prior to the crash. Ziglar testified in his deposition that Hartman was intoxicated virtually each time they 3 played together at Stoneybrook. He added that Hartman normally started the day by drinking two strongly poured whiskey and Cokes in sixteen-ounce Styrofoam cups poured by bartenders who were familiar with Hartman. At the turn at the midpoint of the golf round, Hartman normally went to the Stoneybrook clubhouse and purchased another strongly poured sixteen-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. 

Based on this evidence, the court concluded “that Gonzalez offered sufficient evidence to raise a factual dispute not resolvable by summary judgment as to whether Hartman was habitually addicted to alcohol and, if so, whether Stoneybrook knew of his addiction.”

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