Will New Jersey Allow Drunk Drivers to Sue the Bars That Served Them?

I found this interesting article on the legal blog watch. Following my recent post about the Red Room and liquor liability, comes news that a New Jersey Appellate Court has now ruled that drunk drivers, injured in an auto accident of their own causing, can now sue the bar or club that served them despite obvious intoxication.

I suspect that such a ruling will be shot down at the Supreme Court level or overturned by the legislature, not necessarily because the reasoning is flawed, but because public policy demands it. In fact, the ruling is already in conflict with a New Jersey law that states a driver convicted of DUI shall have no cause of action over his or her injuries. A reading of the decision shows that the Court gave greater weight to the Dram Shop Act than to the above stated law. The NJ Dram Shop Act, similar to our own, indicates that ANYONE injured as a result of the negligent service of alcohol may have an action against the licensed provider of that alcohol. The New Jersey Appellate Court reasoned that there is no bar to ANYONE including the drunk driver.

Drunk drivers are often vilified because it is well known that it is a reckless and dangerous activity that puts peoples lives at risk. This is indisputable. Unfortunately, one of the effects of alcohol is to reduce our ability to reason and use proper judgment. Isn’t it reasonable, therefore, to hold the negligent server of alcohol responsible since they profit heavily from increased intoxication. Please know that I am only playing devil’s advocate here, and I understand that a reasonable person would cut himself off before he gets to a point in which he can no longer drive.

I found this ruling interesting. It expands the scope of the Dram Shop Act, and I believe rightfully so. That is not to say that drunk drivers should be awarded for their reckless behavior, but a licensed vendor of liquor, an intoxicating and dangerous drug, needs to be more carefully regulated and held responsible when they place profits over safety. Again, I imagine that this ruling will be overturned for public policy reasons – but it is interesting nonetheless.

If you have been arrested and charged with DUI contact our office right away for a free consultation. Also contact us, if you have been injured in an auto or motorcycle accident with a driver who appears to be intoxicated. An investigation needs to be conducted early to determine if there is a possible dram shop claim.