In April 2010, in Voss v. Tranquilino, App. Div. Docket No. A-5431-08T1 (N.J. App. Div. Apr. 28, 2010), New Jersey’s Appellate Division held that “a driver of a motor vehicle who is convicted of or pleads guilty to driving while intoxicated (DWI), N.J.S.A. [§] 39:4-50(a),” may bring a lawsuit for damages under New Jersey’s dram shop law, N.J.S.A. §§ 2A:22A-1 – 2A:22A-7, against a bar or restaurant “that allegedly served him alcoholic beverages when he was visibly intoxicated prior to the motor vehicle accident.”
The appeals court’s decision highlights that it is critical for bars, restaurants, and other liquor licensees in New Jersey to adopt, and to train their employees on, responsible policies governing the service of alcohol to patrons.
The Voss Court held that a bar or restaurant may be liable to a convicted drunk driver to whom that business had served alcohol while the driver was visibly drunk, even though a 1997 anti-drunk-driving amendment to New Jersey’s motor vehicle insurance law, at N.J.S.A. § 39:6A-4.5(b), states that a convicted drunk driver “shall have no cause of action for recovery of economic or noneconomic loss sustained as a result of the accident.”
In Voss, the Appellate Division reasoned that, even though the plain language of the statute indicates otherwise, the “[New Jersey] Legislature could not have thought it could reduce the number of drunken drivers by immunizing liquor establishments from their claims and thus providing a disincentive to the [liquor] licensees . . . to avoid serving visibly intoxicated patrons . . . .”
The Appellate Division’s decision allows Frederick Voss, a motorcyclist injured in a motor vehicle collision in Toms River in 2006, to pursue a claim that Tiffany’s Restaurant served alcoholic beverages to Voss while he was was visibly drunk, contributing to the collision. Voss pled guilty to driving while intoxicated.
If your company wants to bring, or needs a lawyer to defend it in, business litigation and you are located in the New York City area, call Attorney David S. Rich at (212) 209-3972.