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Who is at Fault if a Drunk Driver has been Overserved?

Terri January Week 1 - IMG - Over ServeHave you ever sat at a bar and watched another patron throw back drink after drink and get more and more clearly intoxicated? Have you ever thought to yourself, “I sure hope that guy isn’t driving”?  When you think that to yourself, you do so as a concerned citizen, but the bartender who is serving the drink has a legal responsibility to think the very same thing, and if they don’t act responsibly and stop serving alcohol to a person who is visibly intoxicated, they can be held responsible for any damage that the person ends up causing. This is the law under Section 2A:22A-4 of the New Jersey Revised Statutes, which specify who is at fault if a drunk driver has been overserved.

Also known as Dram Shop Laws, the state’s statute has established that in addition to the intoxicated person being responsible for any injuries that they cause, when a bar acts negligently in selling alcohol to a person who is visibly drunk they can also be held legally liable. For legal purposes, a dram shop is defined as anybody who is licensed to sell alcoholic beverages in the state. This can include a restaurant, a bar or a night club. The server who provides the alcohol is not considered negligent simply for selling the person a drink – the statue is extremely clear in indicating that the liability begins when a person to whom alcohol is sold is either “visibly intoxicated” or under the age of 21, that the injury was proximately caused by this service of alcohol, and that the injury was the foreseeable consequence of the service of the alcohol.

So what defines visibly intoxicated? The New Jersey statutes indicate that a person is visibly intoxicated when there is “a perceptible act or series of acts which present clear signs of intoxication.” Absent a specific list of these acts, there are a few guidelines that dram shops are likely to follow. Since not everybody exhibits intoxication in the same way, one is simply to count the number of drinks that a person has consumed. Other signs may include swaying, staggering or stumbling; slurring words; being overly animated or loud; experiencing extreme changes in behavior; and many other examples. Servers are not required to assess a person’s blood alcohol content, but there is an expectation that they will be reasonable and use good judgment. Similarly, they will be held responsible if they serve alcohol to a person who is a minor.

The New Jersey laws do not permit the person who was intoxicated from holding the dram shop responsible for any injuries that they suffer, and the dram shop being held liable in no way diminishes their responsibility for any injuries that they cause. If you or someone you love has been injured by a drunk driving accident and you believe that the establishment that sold the driver alcohol may have acted negligently in serving them, then you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit for the damages that you’ve suffered. At Malamut & Associates LLC we have the knowledge and experience you need to help you make sense of what’s happened and move forward. Call us today to set up a consultation.