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New Jersey Allows DUI Offenders to Sue Bars

New Jersey's Supreme Court has decided that drunk drivers who plead guilty to DUI can still recover for their own injuries from restaurants and bars that served them alcohol. New Jersey's Dram Shop Act has always provided that any establishment that serves alcohol to visibly intoxicated persons can be held liable for damage caused by those persons. The issue in this case was whether a subsequent law that prevents drunk drivers from recovering for their injuries from their own insurance companies barred the same drivers from suing the restaurants or bars that served them.

Driver Pleads Guilty to DUI and Sues Bar

The case arose from a 2006 accident where the intoxicated driver of a motorcycle drove his vehicle into a car and was injured. His blood alcohol content was two-and-a-half times the state limit. The driver pleaded guilty to a charge of driving while intoxicated, but sued the restaurant where he was served alcohol. The restaurant claimed that he was barred from recovering against them because of statute N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4.5(b), which prevents drunk drivers from submitting claims to their insurance companies.

The Supreme Court looked at the statute and found that its purpose was to reduce the cost of automobile insurance in New Jersey. The Court noted that this statute also deterred drunk driving by denying intoxicated drivers insurance coverage. The Court further found that allowing drunk drivers to sue establishments that serve alcohol to visibly intoxicated patrons also serves to deter drunk driving by making these establishments responsible for their actions.

The decision was criticized by the New Jersey Lawsuit Reform Alliance (NJLRA), an organization of New Jersey businesses advocating to eliminate lawsuit abuse. "Common sense tells us that pleading guilty to driving while intoxicated shouldn't legally transfer liability from one person to another," noted a NJLRA spokesman. "Adults who choose to break the law and endanger others should not have the ability to use our civil court system to collect monetary damages at the expense of New Jersey's business community. Today drunk drivers can minimize personal responsibility for their actions and sue the restaurateurs of New Jersey for serving them drinks."