Accidents involving alcohol-impaired drivers can be the most devastating and deadly collisions. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drunk drivers cause over 10,000 deaths every year; nearly a third of all motor vehicle-related deaths in the United States. All DUI accidents have one thing in common: the driver consumed alcohol to the point of intoxication, either on their own or at a bar or party.
When you or a loved one have been involved in a collision with a drunk driver, you will need assistance recovering the compensation that you are rightfully entitled to, both from the driver and the bar that served them. In these times of hardship, our car accident lawyers are there to help you get your life back on track. We have over 25 years of experience in helping the victims of negligent drivers, and have recovered over $100 million to date.
Can I sue a bar for an accident caused by a drunk driver?
In short: if you were injured by an intoxicated driver, you are able to pursue damages from the bar which served alcohol to the driver. New Jersey is one of several states that has a “dram shop law.” More specifically, the New Jersey Licensed Alcoholic Beverage Server Fair Liability Act (Section 2A:22A-4 and 2A:22A-5 of the New Jersey Revised Statutes) allows you, or a loved one who has been injured in a collision, to recover damages from the licensed alcohol vendor if:
- The employee of the vendor serves alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person or a minor (the server must know, or reasonably should know, that the patron was a minor).
- The injuries or damages were proximately caused by the negligent service of alcoholic beverages.
- The injuries or damages were a foreseeable consequence of the negligent service of alcohol.
Under the statute, the bar cannot be held liable for the drunk driver’s injuries, but they can be found liable for any injuries that the driver inflicted. For you, this means that if a bar or other vendor of alcohol continues to serve a patron who was clearly intoxicated at the time of service, and that person causes a collision while under the influence, you can seek compensation for your damages from them.
How can I prove that a bar was negligent?
Proving that a vendor’s service of alcohol was negligent can be tough, but not impossible. As your advocates, our attorneys are here to assist you and make sure your get the compensation you deserve. We will look at video or eyewitness evidence, to prove that the patron was visibly intoxicated at the time of service, or review bar policies and procedures to prove that the bar should have known a minor was being served. The facts and circumstances of each case are unique, but you can count on our experienced attorneys to accomplish our mission of getting justice for you and your loved ones.
For a dram shop lawsuit to be successful, we must prove that the vendor in question actually served alcohol to the driver that caused the collision. In Bauer v. Nesbitt, a New Jersey Supreme Court decision from 2009, a bar was found not liable for damages after it was proved that Nesbitt, a 19 year old that caused a collision while drunk, was only served soda at the bar and spiked the sodas with rum from a flask he had smuggled in. Thus, the bar did not serve a visibly intoxicated individual or knowingly serve a minor and was held not liable.
Damages in Dram Shop Lawsuits
Lawsuits against vendors of alcohol are distinct from criminal and/or civil proceedings against the driver that caused the collision; who can legally be held liable for a host of injuries and damages. Under New Jersey law, however, the bar that served the drunk driver can only be held liable for the amount of injuries or damages that were directly caused by their negligent service. This means that, at trial, the jury must determine exactly how great of a percentage of liability to apportion to the bar, and how much to apportion to the driver.
Let’s say that a bartender notices that a patron is starting to slur their words a little, so they serve them one more drink – but refuse further service after it is apparent that the patron is drunk. If that patron were to cause a collision later that night, it is likely that the bar would be apportioned only a small amount of liability for the damages as they did eventually cease service to the patron. On the other hand, if a bar continued serving the patron after they were stumbling around or barely able to speak, the bar would be apportioned a much higher percentage of liability and consequently held liable for a much greater amount of the damages.
What if the driver was not at a bar?
According to New Jersey law, other vendors of alcohol can also be sued if their negligent service leads to a collision. Establishments that can be held liable for the damages include:
- Social hosts
- Liquor stores
For example, if a bartender at a wedding continues to serve a visibly intoxicated individual, and that person goes on to cause a car accident while driving under the influence, you can sue the bartender – or their employer – for any damages caused in the collision.
What to do next …
You already know that someone who chooses to drive while intoxicated can be held responsible in the event of a car accident, but if you believe a bar or other establishment may also be to blame, contact an attorney who specializes in car accidents right away. Servers and bartenders cannot ignore their duty to serve responsibly, and establishments that condone this behavior and put profit before safety cannot be allowed to continue to do so. Your car accident lawyer will investigate the case and hold all responsible parties liable for the damage and injuries they caused, and fight to get you compensation. Most personal injury attorneys operate on a contingency fee, which means there is no up front cost to you and the law firm does not get paid until they win your case.