New Jersey treats providing alcohol to minors with great severity – especially if said minor goes on to cause an accident. The state’s social host law does not outright state that anyone injured by a drunk minor can sue a bar that served that minor. However, that creates a unique opening through which someone who is too young to drink legally can file a claim against the person who gave them the drinks. Here is how those same minors can successfully sue social hosts providing alcohol to minors.
Third Party Cases and Social Host Liability
New Jersey’s social host laws typically only allow “third party cases.” This means that if Person A is provided alcohol at a social gathering and goes on to injure Person B, only Person B – the third party – can claim compensation. If Person A – the first party – is injured as well, they usually cannot make a claim. The argument goes that they hold too much responsibility for the accident and should not be able to profit, in some way, from the illegal act of driving while intoxicated.
However, the New Jersey justice system does allow Person A to sue the person who provided them with alcohol under certain circumstances. New Jersey Statutes 2A:15-5.6 states that the laws regarding social host liability are “the exclusive civil remedy” for cases where someone’s health or property were damaged due to negligence by a social host. However, the exact text says that the law covers damage caused by a social host’s guest “who has attained the legal age to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages.”
This has been interpreted to mean that the rules listed in the rest of the statute apply specifically to situations in which the person who was served alcohol is at least 21 years old. The law does not answer the question at hand: what happens if the person had not attained the legal age?
Providing Alcohol to Minors and Batten v. Bobo
This Superior Court resolved this question in the 1986 case Batten v. Bobo. The Court ruled that a minor who was given alcohol can, indeed, “maintain a cause of action against the social host” and receive compensation for injuries.
This is based on findings from the 1959 case that established dram shop law, itself the basis for social host law: Rappaport v. Nichols. The case found that minors have “very special susceptibilities” to the effects of alcohol. NJ dram shop law directly addresses the issue of licensed establishments selling alcohol to a minor because of this, as well as “the intensification of the otherwise inherent dangers when persons lacking maturity and responsibility partake of alcoholic beverages.”
Despite this, minors might still face problems in court for committing the offense of underage drinking. Batten v. Bobo also established that the jury in such cases may compare the social host’s level of negligence with that of the minor. They may be able to file a claim, but depending on the circumstances of the specific situation, they may not succeed in receiving compensation.
The dram shop attorneys at The Law Offices of James C. DeZao have extensive knowledge and experience with the laws of New Jersey. Their specialties include social host law, and we are more than capable of providing you with the assistance you need. Contact us today at (973) 358-6134
and talk with a New Jersey personal injury lawyer about social host liability today.