By: Justin M. Smigelsky, Esq.
Under New Jersey law, licensed alcoholic beverage servers – such as taverns, restaurants, and bars – may be held responsible for personal injury or property damage resulting from the negligent service of alcoholic beverages. Additionally, as discussed below, a social host – an individual who has invited another onto his or her premises for hospitality – may also be liable for personal injury or property damage in certain instances.
The New Jersey Licensed Alcoholic Beverage Server Fair Liability Act, more commonly referred to as the “Dram Shop Act,” is the exclusive civil remedy for personal injury or property damage incurred due to negligent service by a licensed server. Although the term “dram shop” was originally used in the 1830s to describe inns where alcoholic beverages were sold in quantities less than a gallon, the term now generally refers to any business selling liquor to be consumed on the premises. (See New Jersey Practice Series on Liability for Intoxicating Liquors, citing the 1998 article of Jana L. Morino published in the New England Law Review (33 New Eng. L. Rev. 173)). Under New Jersey law, a dram shop can be held liable for a person’s personal injury or property damage as the result of negligent service of alcoholic beverages if (1) the server served a visibly intoxicated person, or a minor under circumstances where the server knew or should have known that the person served was a minor; (2) the negligent service of alcohol proximately caused the personal injury or property damage; and (3) the personal injury or property damage was a foreseeable consequence of the negligent service of alcohol.
The obligations of a social host for hospitable service of alcohol are also defined by New Jersey statute. Generally, a social host will not be held liable for any injury to a person to whom the social host has provided alcohol; however, this statutory protection does not apply to claims relating to the service of alcohol to an underage person, or to claims for injuries sustained by a third party due to the negligence of a drunken guest. With respect to third-party claims, a social host may be held liable for claims related to the negligent operation of a vehicle by an of-age intoxicated guest if he or she willingly and knowingly provided alcohol to a person who was visibly intoxicated in the social host’s presence, or the social host willfully and knowingly provided alcohol to a person who was visibly intoxicated under circumstances manifesting reckless disregard for the consequences affecting the life and property of another. With respect to service of alcohol to minors, a social host’s potential liability is not addressed under the social-host liability statute and, therefore, remains governed by the common law of negligence. As opposed to the limitations on liability afforded by statute to a social host for claims made by the guest, under New Jersey case law, an underage drinker is not prohibited from filing suit against the serving social host
It is important to note that this article does not address the quasi-criminal, criminal, or regulatory implications of the service of alcohol or the operation of a motor vehicle by an intoxicated driver. It is also important to note that New Jersey has a Statute of Limitations that prevents the filing of a personal injury complaint or claim petition for workers’ compensation benefits after two (2) years from the date of the accident in most instances. Furthermore, if you wish to pursue a claim against a public entity or governmental agency, or any employee of a public entity, you must give timely notice of the intent to file a claim, which is ordinarily within ninety (90) days from the date you knew or should have known of the cause of action. Failure to bring a claim within an applicable time period may cause any claim you may have had to be barred forever. Therefore, if you have been injured and wish to seek compensation, it is imperative that you do so immediately upon sustaining injury.
If you have been injured or have any questions in regards to personal injury law, you may wish to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney. This article is for information purposes only, and is neither legal advice nor the creation of an attorney client relationship.
Justin M. Smigelsky, Esq. / Timothy J. Little, P.C. – 2016 – All Rights Reserved
Timothy J. Little, P.C. is a full-service law firm with offices in Woodbridge and Chesterfield, New Jersey. The attorneys at Timothy J. Little, P.C. represent individuals, families and businesses throughout New Jersey including Middlesex County (Old Bridge, Woodbridge, Sayreville, East Brunswick, Spotswood, Perth Amboy, Dunellen, Colonia, Sewaren, Iselin, Avenel, Fords, Keasbey, Menlo Park, Port Reading, South Amboy, Monroe, Edison, Carteret, Cranbury, Helmetta, South River, Milltown, Highland Park, Jamesburg, Laurence Harbor), Monmouth County (Hazlet, Aberdeen, Matawan, Keyport, Cliffwood Beach, Middletown, Freehold), Union County, Ocean County, Somerset County, and Burlington County.