On January 16, an aspiring musician named Carlos Bertonatti spent hours inside downtown megaclub Club Space until hopping into his silver 2007 Volkswagon and speeding off into the early morning sunlight. A few minutes later, police say, the handsome 28-year-old slammed into a cyclist near Key Biscayne and then roared off, leaving 44-year-old Christophe LeCanne to die on the pavement.
Bertonatti is languishing in jail today, awaiting an August criminal trial on charges of DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide and resisting arrest -- but the singer-songwriter might not be the only one to pay for his crimes.
LeCanne's widow, Sandra, argues in a new lawsuit that since Bertonatti allegedly spent hours drinking at Club Space before the accident, the club should also be held accountable for her husband's death.
Her suit could test a Florida law that seeks to make bars liable for damages caused by their alcoholic patrons - but it won't be an easy case to prove.
"It's a dicey proposition," says Robert Reiff, a Coral Gables lawyer who has written numerous books on DUI law. "Can you prove that everyone in that club knew who he was and that he shouldn't have been drinking so much?"
That's exactly what LeCanne's laywers hope to show in court. They cite a Florida statute known as a "Dram Shop Act," which says that anyone who "knowingly serves a person habitually addicted to the use of ... alcohol" can be held liable for "injury or damage" they later cause.
Bertonatti's alcoholism was "well known to many of the staff employed by Club Space," the suit claims, and yet on the night of the accident, the club allegedly made no effort to slow his drinking.
LeCanne wants unspecified damages from the club, Bertonatti, and Bertonatti's mother, Carmen.
Neither Louis Diaz, Club Space's representative, nor the club's attorneys returned emails and numerous phone messages from New Times about the case.
Reiff says he isn't aware of any cases in which the Florida law has succeeded in winning money from a bar. "But bars have decided its not worth the publicity and just settled," he says.
As we reported on Friday, Club Space is scheduled to close indefinitely after Labor Day.
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