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Liquor Liability: Can Drunk Drivers Sue the Liquor Establishments that Over Serve Them?

March 29, 2011

The Supreme Court of New Jersey has decided to make a determination as to whether drunk drivers injured in accidents can sue the liquor establishments who served them. Amendments made to New Jersey’s motor vehicle insurance law in 1997 prevent drunk drivers from bringing personal injury claims against other drivers, but the State’s Supreme Court has never ruled on whether these amendments take precedence over the Dram Shop Act, and in effect, immunize liquor serving establishments from suits brought by drunk drivers.
In April, in Voss v. Tranquilino, 413 N.J. Super. 82, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, ruled that these amendments do not take precedence over the Dram Shop Act because: (1) the amendments demonstrate no intent by the Legislate to immunize the liquor serving establishments under such circumstances; and (2) there is a strong public policy in New Jersey to hold liquor serving establishments liable for over serving their patrons. The Court held the Dram Shop Act was enacted in to create a civil remedy for someone "who sustains personal injury or property damage as a result of the negligent service of alcoholic beverages by a licensed alcoholic beverage server." The Court stated that although usually it is the victims of drunken drivers who sue under the Dram Shop Act, the law also allows suits by drunken drivers. The amendments to New Jersey’s motor vehicle insurance law in 1997 did not change that, although they did bar suits against other drivers involved in the crash.
The Supreme Court of New Jersey has decided to hear the appeal from this case and make a ruling on the issue to assure there is no further dispute as to the interpretation of these laws and to help Courts apply them with consistency across the board.

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