Caught With A DUI In New Jersey? You Can Now Blame The Bar That Served You

from the liability? dept

This is from a few weeks back, but techinabox writes in to point out the latest in ridiculously misapplied third party liability. It appears that in New Jersey, if you get good and drunk at a bar, and then hop in your car and get into legal trouble for driving under the influence (DUI), you can blame the bar for serving you… and win. The state supreme court said that it’s perfectly reasonable for Fredrick Voss to sue the bar that served him drinks, even though he was the one who drove to the bar on his motorcycle, drank a bunch, and then got back on his motorcycle after drinking, drove off, ran a red light and got into an accident. A lower court still needs to determine if the bar actually is liable, but the supreme court seems to have no issue with holding bars liable in such situations. It’s pretty scary that we keep seeing stories concerning attempts to stretch third party liability. Beyond blaming the wrong party, third party liability only serves to take responsibility off the parties actual responsible. It’s a bad idea… but one that seems to be getting more and more popular.

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Comments on “Caught With A DUI In New Jersey? You Can Now Blame The Bar That Served You”

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Marcus Carab (profile) says:

We have a similar situation in Ontario (not sure about the rest of Canada) wherein anyone serving alcohol needs a “SmartServe” certification, which is supposed to affirm that they can recognize and not serve anyone who has gotten dangerously shitfaced. However, that just has to do with liability in the event of death/injury/destruction/etc: a bar can get in trouble if they serve someone way past what’s sensible and then that person goes out and gets in a car accident and kills themselves or someone else. As far as I know it doesn’t actually remove any liability from the drinker/driver, it just adds potential liability for the server as well.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Arizona has the same thing, which is why many bars here don’t give you a receipt. (So the cops don’t know the last bar you were drinking at)

Which would also preclude them from taking credit cards. That seems like it would make it kind of hard for most bars to stay in business.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Re:

How are bars supposed to know if you’re driving home or not?

Does he live in the building? Is the bar in New York City? If not, chances are he has to drive home.

Seems like they’re creating a situation where bars have to spend more money hiring more staff to give the leaving patrons a sobriety test before letting them get in their cars.

Nope, it’s simply against the law (and has been for a real long time) for bartenders to serve visibly intoxicated people. It really doesn’t matter if he has to drive or walk. If you serve alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person and he’s in an accident because of your negligence, he (and anyone else injured) can sue.

Is it the drinkers’s fault? Sure. But is it also the fault of the bar for serving him when he was visibly intoxicated? Yep. And it’s a jury question to determine the proportion each has to pay.

ChurchHatesTucker (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Nope, it’s simply against the law (and has been for a real long time) for bartenders to serve visibly intoxicated people

That’s a really tough standard. Some people can be blotto and look fine. Others can BE fine and then toss back a beer and be dangerous.

Regardless, you’re removing the responsibility from the offending party (or at least spreading it around.)

whisk33 says:

Re: Re: Re:

Does he live in the building? Is the bar in New York City? If not, chances are he has to drive home.

Imafish subtlety acknowledges the fact that the use of a designated driver is, as it always has been, something that no one actually believe can be conceivably put into practice…

Also ignored are taxis, public transportation, drinking responsibly and waiting a couple hours

Chargone (profile) says:

Re: Strategy!

actually, the ‘nanny state’ is usually used to refer to a situation where the state controls and regulates (and where possible Does) everything so people don’t have (or get) to make choices.

the USA is so far away from That it’s not funny. you’re not looking at a nanny state so much as a police state there. third party liability is yet another factor discouraging actions disliked by those in power and encouraging those with a grudge (or simply trying to get out of something) to report on those around them.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Strategy!

> These moves are piece-by-piece furthering
> the idea of a ‘nanny state’

Yep. Here’s some more wonderful examples of the government deciding for us how to live our lives:

Want to go for a swim in King County, WA? You have to wear a life vest now, per government mandate.

The food police are at it again as well. Apparently there’s nothing to trivial and mundane that the Obama Administration doesn’t believe should be the subject of federal regulation.

And if that wasn’t enough, now the federal government has decided rude sex jokes by college students are an issue of such importance that the federal government must intervene and stamp them out. I can?t believe we?ve had to go this long without the loving embrace of the federal government micromanaging speech and thought and humor in our universities.

Prisoner 201 says:

Re: Re: Re:

Kind of makes you wonder why a drug that impairs your ability for consequence prediction and critical thinking is even legal. It’s like the master recepie for trouble isn’t it?

Drink a little and you just have more fun. Drink too much and pretty much anything can happen. Problem is, once you start drinking your ability to judge in what state you are diminshes.

And how can you be held accountable when your decision making process was altered by a drug, its like temporary insanity.

Every friday. And saturday. And some wednesdays.

Aerilus says:

Re: Re: Re:

hmm lets see since their is no sidewalk i am going to walk down the middle of a 4 lane highway because it is easier on my feet I just made a judgement call as does any person that gets into a motor vehicle and drives to a bar they also make a conscious choice with at least the first two drinks and i would argue with everyone they no they should stop just like I know I should stop and do stop after one or two and not 8 or nine its called personal responsibility get some. these individuals have options drink at home don’t drink don’t go to a location where you know the only way you are going to go home is driving yourself then proceed to get shit faced its why we have liquor stores get shitfaced at home and enjoy your own company

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

If you voluntarily alter your state of mind through chemical means, you are responsible for everything you do in your new altered state. Period.

And you aren’t otherwise? “I’m sorry I ran over that child, Your Honor, but I was sober and therefore not responsible for my actions.”

Norm Petterson says:

Will it settle?

1. I believe that individuals should be responsible for their own actions.
2. I don’t think the bar owners should be over-serving people whether they are driving or not.
3. “A lower court still needs to determine if the bar actually is liable…”. I would not be surprised if this case gets “quietly settled”. I would imagine that if it were determined that the bar was at fault then that would have repercussions for the alcohol producers, bar and restaurant owners, professional Sports teams (anyone notice the alcoholic debauchery after a football game?) etc. I am sure any of these organizations would gladly through a few hundred thousand dollars at the problem and make it go away for a little while (till the next idiot decides to sue).

MunkiLord (profile) says:

Dram Shop Law

Ima Fish, from my understanding that only applies in the case of accidents. Which as a long time server/bartender, I actually have no problem with it. I shouldn’t serve people to the point of being shit faced.

But this New Jersey case seems to have the potential to expand that to simple DUIs in which the bar can be sued by the driver if he/she simply gets pulled over and arrested. That I don’t agree with at all.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Dram Shop Law

He’s not using dram shop as a defense to his DUI. He’s suing the bar for his accident:

“Drunken drivers who get into accidents may sue the taverns where they were overserved, under a split state Supreme Court decision Wednesday in an appeal by a Toms River restaurant being sued by a Brick man.”

That’s dram shop. And once again, it’s not new.

Shane C (profile) says:

Two drink minimum

It’s interesting. This may eliminate the “two drink minimum” imposed by many clubs, and entertainment establishments.

Then again, it might impose a “two drink maximum” at many places.

In the long run, it will probably just create another mandatory insurance situation. You won’t be able to have a liquor license in NJ without carrying insurance for when someone gets drunk.

Anonymous Coward says:

Most states (not sure about New Jersey) have a “comparative negligence” doctrine (I might be getting that terminology wrong) whereby any damages are split depending on each party’s level of liability.

So, if the plaintiff is 90% liable for his own accident and the bar is 10% responsible, as determined by the jury, then the bar only pays up 10% of the damages. Some states say if the plaintiff is 51% or more responsible for the damages, then the defendant pays nothing.

So, that sort of tempers a lot of the potential ill effects of being allowed to sue someone who played a relatively small role in an accident.

Anonymous Coward says:

Why stop at Bars?

Sue the roads he was driving in. Sue the vehicle producer. Sue the red light installer, runner, maintainer and producer. Sue the liquor that he drank. Sue the county that issued that bar a permit. Sue the person that signed the permit. Sue it’s own boss for paying him enough to spend on drinks. Sue the government for issuing the money with which he payed. Sue the other patrons in the bar for not stopping him. Sue the oil company that sold him the fuel needed to make the vehicle work.

I bet he would make enough in settlements to turn a profit.

Why should we have common sense stop us on the way to make a profit?

John Doe says:

This has been coming for a long time

Third party liability has been coming for a long time. It is only a matter of time before it hits full scale. If you think your insurance rates are high now, wait until 3rd parties can sue. Your personal rates and that of business will increase greatly. People want to sue bars for drunk drivers, gun manufacturers for gun violence and so on.

Mikael (profile) says:

What about groups of people?

With everyone saying people should not serve someone that is already drunk, I completely agree, but what about someone buying drinks for other people? What if you have a group of 5 people and the one buying drinks for other people is the one not drinking? What if, in that group, there is a different person each time going up to buy drinks and each one gets the drinks from different bartenders? How are they going to keep track of how much each person has had to drink?

I don’t think the bars should be held instantly liable for someone getting drunk at their bar and then getting into an accident because they decided to drive. The bar employees should probably be questioned and then held liable if they served the person past the point of inebriation.

Here’s another “what if”. What if a person meets some friends at a bar and they get this person drunk. The bartenders don’t know this person is drunk enough to cause themselves harm (multiple bartenders on a very busy night) and the person even leaves the bar with the group. Once outside that person decides they are not going with the others and gets in their own car to leave. The shitty “friends” let this person drive off only to get into an accident later. How could someone say the bar is responsible for that accident?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What about groups of people?

…what about someone buying drinks for other people?

That’s why many bars won’t serve multiple drinks like that to a single person. It also keeps a person from buying a bunch of drinks at once with the intention of drinking them all herself and getting shitfaced without the bartender interfering.

AW says:

Re: Re:

If the Supreme Court rules on anything these days you can almost bet you’ve lost another constitutional right. You know just once I’d wish that we could have this kind of grown up talk the whole day instead we get libertarians saying it’s your own fault, liberals saying we need more government oversight, conservatives saying this proves we needs to have more tools to monitor the public covertly, for safety reasons of course, and corporations complaining that the position of one of the above is making it harder for them to do business in the USA even though they have no US manufacturing, R&D, customer service or warehousing. Why are we still using a broken record player in the digital age anyways?

Reina says:

Silly Laws?

My dad pays so much for a licence to sell alcohol in NJ, That plus overhead,insurance, taxes,even in a down economy where he is losing money. He is elderly and still running his tavern and not collecting Social Security. Now he has to worry about another thing that could wipe him out financially. Lovely. What happened to taking responsibility for one’s own actions? And my dad does stop serving people that are beyond intoxicated and has even offered to drive some people home or feed them to avoid them driving drunk. Bar owners are not all greedy and senseless, especially with a costy license that can be taken away. But it shouldn’t ever be easy for someone to sue another for their own bad judgement. BTW, a license in NJ to renew yearly is about 6000, the license itself 60,000-300,000 depending on location and difficulty to attain in an area, liquor costs come instant state tax added to all liquor purchased in a quarter, whether you sell it or not!, plus overhead, rent/mortgage,utilities, staff, yearly insurance 5,000 and up, etc.. So why would anyone risk so much loss intentionally? Also, it doesn’t make sense to be licensed to sell alcohol by a state that then penalizes them for any infringement. The state rapes the establishement already with fees, costs and taxes, then allows the clients to be able to as well…

AJ says:

I'm all over this one.......

When your customer orders a drink containing alcohol, you must require them to take a breathalyzer before you serve them, and then sign an agreement stating that they are not drunk and are consuming said alcohol at their own risk (it may help to have a notary on hand). This is because some people, that drink all the time, can be drunk and still appear somewhat sober and/or may have their own “travel” flasks that they are using to “spike” their otherwise non-alcoholic drinks between their alcoholic drinks. With the required breathalyzer, no room for fail. Think of this way, the same reasoning went into the “required ID check”, even if the person is obviously a senior citizen, you have to check everyone’s id so no one feels singled out…. and to think I fought for this country…

JMG says:

Dram Shop Law

Some states also include social hosts as part of the dram shop law. If you are hosting a gathering at your house and providing free alcohol for your guests and a guest gets in an accident after leaving, then you could be found secondarily (is that a word?) liable.

Years ago I was at a party in high school. The guy’s parents were out of town, and the party got a little out of control. There was an extremely intoxicated girl that got pissed at her friends, got her keys (they were in her car, but she was not driving), and left without telling anyone. No one realized she had left until the police showed up. She had flipped her car into a ditch. Anyway, there was talk of the girl’s family suing the parents of my classmate. The girl’s friends had to go on record saying that she was drunk prior to arriving to the party.

ts says:


I stubbed my toe on a door. I’m going to sue DC Shoes because their shoes didn’t protect me. I’m also going to sue the person who installed the door, the manufacturer of the door, and the company that cut down the trees used to make the door. And of course, had I not been born, I would never feel such pain, so obviously, I must sue my parents.

JMG says:

Re: Nothing my fault

That happened with jockey Willie Shoemaker 10 years ago. Driving his Ford Bronco while intoxicated. Flipped it, and ended up a quadriplegic. Went lawsuit happy and claimed no fault even though his blood alcohol level was .15 or something. I believe he either won a lawsuit or there was a big settlement between him and Ford because it was a defect in the Bronco and not his drunk driving and loss of control of the vehicle that resulted in the Bronco flipping and his spine crushed under the steering wheel. He also sued doctors for malpractice, the hospital he was taken to, and maybe EMS workers that tried to save his life at the site of the accident.

Here is the Sports Illustrated article about him going all litigation instead of owning up which I read years ago, but don’t really remember all the details. All I know is I lost total respect for one of the great jockeys once he went lawsuit happy.

lauren (user link) says:

yes, to a degree...

the bar is liable, to a degree. if this guy was falling over drunk, the bar obviously has an obligation to cut him off. you cannot sell alcohol to someone who is obviously intoxicated. this is not something new. In reality, it’s difficult to prosecute bars and taverns under dram shop laws because they have to prove the bar / tavern knew the patron was obviously intoxicated.

thomas j bragen says:

Serving drunks

We are responsible for what we do and we are also part of the human race. I regret not having helped a few of my friends who were drunkards for if I did , I would still have them as friends. I am 80 and drink within my capacity which can be two glasses of wine each time I eat out. When I
drink three, I am forcing it down. I can tell when a man or woman is getting drunk and so can a bartender. A woman will push her hair back frequently and that is a tell tale sign she has reached her limit. A guy will usually speak louder, and without pausing. There are other signs as well but these are the most visible.Some of us are weaker when it comes to alcohol, and some stronger. The weaker we have to help if we are truly human enough to do so. Tom Bragen, Bayonne, NJ.

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