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Press Release

NJ Supreme Court Holds That Drunk Drivers Can Sue Under Dram Shop Act

The New Jersey Supreme Court, in a recent opinion, now allows a person's right to sue for damages under the state's Dram Shop law, even they were also visibly intoxicated person, and should not have been served alcohol.
August 07, 2011 /24-7PressRelease/ -- The New Jersey Supreme Court recently issued an opinion that establishes a person's right to sue for damages under the state's Dram Shop law, even if the injured person is also the visibly intoxicated person that should not have been served. The Dram Shop Act, also known as the New Jersey Licensed Alcoholic Beverage Server Fair Liability Act, provides that "a person who sustains personal injury or property damage as a result of the negligent service of alcoholic beverages by a licensed alcoholic beverage server may recover damages."
In Voss v. Tranquilino, the court considered whether a man who was convicted of DWI after his motorcycle collided with another vehicle could sue the Toms River restaurant that had served him. The plaintiff's blood alcohol level was .196 percent, over twice the legal limit of .08 percent, and he was convicted of driving while intoxicated after pleading guilty.
At trial, the defendant restaurant moved for dismissal, citing another New Jersey law that takes away an individual's right to sue if he or she is convicted of or pleads guilty to DWI. The trial court disagreed, and the Appellate Division affirmed that the plaintiff had a right to sue under the Dram Shop Act.
The Supreme Court agreed, noting that the act "provides the exclusive civil remedy for injuries resulting from the negligent service of alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person by a liquor licensee." The court pointed out that the law denying a cause of action after a DWI conviction is intended to reduce automobile insurance premiums, while the Dram Shop Act had different goals:
- To make liability coverage for bars and restaurants more reasonable by defining civil liability limits
- To encourage servers to reduce risks by permitting claims for negligent service
Because of these competing goals, the court declined to "repeal by implication" a part of the Dram Shop Act in direct competition with one of its stated purposes: holding liquor licensees accountable for irresponsibly serving visibly intoxicated patrons. Whether or not the plaintiff motorcycle rider exhibited clear signs of intoxication remains an issue for the trial court to resolve.
Personal Injury Attorneys Protect the Interests of the Injured
In any case involving an intoxicated driver and claims of personal injury or wrongful death, a New Jersey accident injury attorney can help clients understand the latest legal developments. By helping injury victims or surviving family members explore their full range of legal options, personal injury lawyers can help clients pursue full recovery of damages.
Article provided by Feintuch, Porwich & Feintuch
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