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Liquor Law Liability and Over-Serving Patrons

Our Former New Jersey Deputy Attorney General has handled hundreds of ABC cases. Let us put our experience to work for you.

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NJ Dram Shop Attorney

Bar, Tavern, Restaurant and Club employees must practice extreme vigilance when serving patrons. In New Jersey, the negligent service of alcoholic beverages (commonly referred to as “over-serving”) carries civil liability under N.J.S.A. 2A:22A-4. Failure to prevent the negligent service of alcoholic beverages to a patron can result in Drunk Driving (DWI) fatalities or injuries to third parties. In turn, these individuals or their representatives can file civil lawsuits pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:22A-4.

What is New Jersey’s Dram Shop Law?

Dram Shop Liability allows injured persons to file a civil lawsuit against the person or owner of a liquor license who caused the injury. To succeed under these types of civil actions, the aggrieved party must be able to demonstrate certain things. Chief among these “proofs” is that the liquor license establishment sold the victim beer, liquor, wine or any other alcoholic beverage at a point when the individual was showing signs of “visible intoxication.” “Visible intoxication” is defined as “a state of intoxication accompanied by a perceptible act or series of acts which present clear signs of intoxication.”

More specifically, New Jersey law allows for victims to seek damages in on of two scenarios under Dram Shop Liability: (1) The liquor licensee or employee served a person who was visibly intoxicated; or (2) The liquor licensee or employee provided an alcoholic beverage to a minor (under 21 years old) and had reason to believe they were a minor.

Let’s give an example of what could qualify as a “Dram Shop Case” under New Jersey’s laws. A 36 year-old male enters into a local dive-bar at 11:00 pm. This individual is showing the following visible signs: staggering movement, slurred speech, inability to stay awake and bloodshot eyes. Nevertheless, the bartender proceeds to serve this male a shot of whiskey and a beer. After the male consumes these drinks, he gets into his car and crashes into a a mother driving her son home from a friends house. The accident result in serious injuries to the mother and son requiring extensive hospital bills and surgeries. In this unfortunate scenario, the family of mother and son would be able to succeed on a claim against the bar under Dram Shop liability. This is because the bartender served the 36 year-old male while he was showing visible signs of intoxication.

Can I Sue a Liquor License in NJ for Over-Serving?

Yes. In New Jersey and liquor license owners are well-advised to obtain insurance coverage for these types of events. This means that victims of a Dram Shop case can file a lawsuit for civil or monetary remedies and potentially collect under this Dram Shop Insurance Coverage. Moreover, the actual liquor licenses itself may have significant value, depending upon the municipality where the license is located and the type of license that it is (i.e. retail consumption licenses, seasonal retail consumption license, club license, retail consumption license with broad package privilege, hotel license, social affair permit, special concessionaire permit, etc.)

Can the Driver Who Was Drunk Sue the Bar for Over-Serving Them?

No. Even though the person who was over-served could argue that they were also a “victim” of the bar’s negligence, the law does not allow them to file for damages, even if they suffered injuries.

What Kind of Damages Can I Collect?

In a Dram Shop case for over-serving a patron, the court may grant compensatory damages (either through the owner directly or their insurer) and punitive damages. Compensatory damages are intended to “make the victim whole” be reimbursing them for certain out-of-pocket expenses or lost wages and include the following:

  1. Medical bills
  2. Lost wages
  3. Rehabilitation or physical therapy costs
  4. Property damage
  5. Household or child-care services
  6. Pain and Suffering.

Punitive Damages, unlike compensatory damages, are intended to “punish” the bad actor for their negligence. Therefore, juries vary in the amount they may award a victim for punitive damages depending upon the facts of the case and the negligence or malicious conduct demonstrated.

What is the Statute of Limitations for Dram Shop Lawsuits in NJ?

Similar to other personal injury cases, you only have two (2) years to file a lawsuit for negligent service of alcohol or social host liability under New Jersey law. For this reason, it is imperative that you contact and experienced Dram Shop Liability Attorney immediately.

NJ Attorneys for Liquor Law Liability

If you or a family member were a victim of a motor vehicle accident that involved a drunk driver, you may have a lawful claim against the bar or restaurant that last served the driver. For more information on liquor law liability and Dram Shop lawsuits, please contact our office at (732) 858-5857.

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