NJ Court: Restaurants, bars liable for drunk drivers
by Tom Hester/The Star-Ledger
Thursday March 20, 2008, 1:10 PM
In a precedent-setting decision, a state appeals court ruled today that a bar or restaurant can be held liable for allowing a patron to drive drunk although the person did not drink there.
The ruling alters the state's so-called Dram Shop Act to hold that the staff of a business that sells alcoholic beverages is not only responsible for ensuring that a person who became drunk there is prevented from driving, they must make sure any person who entered in a state of drunkenness is stopped from driving.
The ruling stems from a fatal accident on the Garden State Parkway in Cape May County in 2003 that occurred after the driver and the passenger who died left the C View Inn in Cape May City. The passenger, James A. Hamby, became drunk at the C View, but the driver, Frederick Nesbitt, who was found to be drunk after the crash, did not drink there. A Superior Court judge in Cape May tossed out a damage suit brought by Hamby's family against C View, ruling the Dram Shop Act holds operators responsible only for people who become drunk on the premises.
The appeals court disagreed and remanded the lawsuit to Superior Court for a jury trial.
"If, as the evidence we have recounted permits a jury to conclude, Nesbitt was visibly intoxicated while at the C View Inn, then a duty or reasonable care for his safety arose, regardless of whether Nesbitt's intoxication resulted from the service of alcohol by the inn or from other causes,'' the judges held. " ... That duty of care included a duty to protect Nesbitt from the foreseeable risk of injury to himself and others from an automobile accident by insuring Nesbitt did not drive while in an intoxicated state. A jury could conclude that the inn was negligent in this regard.''