New Jersey High Court to Review Dram Shop Law

A bar or restaurant that is negligent in serving alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person who later becomes involved in an accident may be liable for damages to a victim of the crash under New Jersey law. It is now up to the New Jersey Supreme Court to decide if a drunk driver can sue a bar for over-serving alcohol. In 2006, a Brick, New Jersey, man arrived with friends on Harley-Davidson motorcycles and parked outside an establishment in Toms River, New Jersey. The men entered the bar wearing their leather motorcycle jackets.

The Brick, New Jersey, man was served cocktails and shots for several hours. After the man left the bar he reportedly ran a red light and crashed his Harley into a car. The impact hurled him 100 feet into the air. The man sustained multiple fractures in the accident. Some of his injuries are permanent. His blood alcohol concentration measured 0.196 after the motorcycle crash.

He filed a lawsuit against the driver of the car for damages and against the bar under the New Jersey dram shop law. The judge threw out the case against the other driver. State car insurance law prohibits a drunk driver from recovering damages for injuries sustained related to their own drunken-driving.

The bar owner sought the same result in the dram shop case. On Ocean County judge refused to dismiss the case against the bar. The trial court ruling was upheld in the Appellate Division of Superior Court in April. Now the New Jersey Supreme Court has taken the case. No date has been set for Supreme Court arguments.

The appellate court cited public policy for its decision to allow the dram shop case to go forward despite the provision in automobile insurance law prohibiting an intoxicated driver from seeking damages after a being involved in a motor vehicle accident. The initial appellate ruling indicated that barring dram shop liability in the case would undermine the public policy to reduce drunk driving.

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