In 2015 alone, more than 10,000 people were killed in accidents that would not have happened if not for alcohol. It is estimated that drunk driving accidents end a life every 51 minutes, and nonlethal accidents happen even more frequently.
Most people are aware of the dangers posed by those who operate a vehicle after drinking. However, many do not know that New Jersey law allows accident survivors and families of victims to file a suit against the people and establishments that served them in the first place. Here are the answers to some common questions regarding dram shop law, including what it is and where it applies.
NEW JERSEY DRAM SHOP LAW
Bar and restaurant owners should know about New Jersey “dram shop” laws. They refer to the financial liability of a wide range of establishments including bars, clubs, and restaurants that serve alcohol to patrons.
What is Dram Shop Liability?
The term “dram shop” dates back to 18th century England and refers to taverns that sold gin by the spoonful or “dram.” Today, dram shop or liquor liability laws allow injured parties to file claims against a bar or restaurant that sold or served alcohol to a person who later caused an accident due to being intoxicated. With these laws, the state aims to hold businesses responsible for the sale of alcohol as the aftermath can be devastating when an intoxicated person gets behind a wheel or causes an accident.
Dram shop laws, however, involve more than drunk driving accidents. For example, if a restaurant serves alcohol to a visibly drunk individual, and that individual then gets into a fight or starts an altercation on their way home from the restaurant, liability for the harm and damages that individual causes may be the shared all or in part by the restaurant.
Dram Shop Law in New Jersey
Dram shop liability is part of state law under New Jersey Statute 2A:22A, also called the New Jersey Licensed Alcoholic Beverage Server Fair Liability Act. This civil statute states that a person who has been injured because of the actions of an intoxicated individual has the right to seek damages from the vendor who sold the substance if:
- They continued to serve alcoholic beverages to someone who was “visibly intoxicated.” Statute 2A:22A-3 defines the term as “a state of intoxication
accompanied by a perceptible act or acts which present clear signs of
- The vendor sold or served alcohol to a minor (under the age of 21) and had reason to believe they were a minor.
How Are Dram Shop Cases Litigated?
Under the Dram Shop Act, the plaintiff and their legal team must first provide proof that at least one of the two above-mentioned requirements are met, but they cannot claim compensation based on this alone. Statute 2A:22A-5 further states that they must prove this “negligent service” directly contributed to their injury, damage, or loved one’s death. It also states that they must prove it was a “foreseeable consequence” of the service. If they can prove all three in court, only then can the plaintiff claim compensation under dram shop liability.
These laws were instituted for two main reasons. The first is to permit a more significant opportunity for restitution for victims of drunk drivers. The second is to obligate alcohol servers to be mindful of the state of their customers and mandate that they exercise good judgment and civic responsibility in their business practices when it comes to the selling and serving of alcohol.
It is worth noting, however, that in New Jersey, Dram Shop Liability is subject to the principles of comparative negligence. Concerning damages, this means that if fault for drunk driving accident injuries can be apportioned between multiple parties – for example, between the intoxicated driver and a bar – then damages will also be distributed to the extent that each party is found at fault. For instance, if a jury determines that a bar is only 50 percent at fault, it will only be liable for 50 percent of the damages suffered by a victim.
Over the last decade, courts in New Jersey have found numerous situations in which a bar should be held liable because an individual was determined to be intoxicated at the time that he or she was provided alcohol.