On November 9, 2006, Frederick Voss was injured when his motorcycle collided with a vehicle operated by Kristoffe Tranquilino in Toms River, New Jersey. Voss, whose blood alcohol content was nearly two and a half times the legal limit at .196, pled guilty to DWI. Mr. Voss then filed a dram shop claim against Tiffany's Restaurant, alleging that before the accident they had served him alcohol even though he was visibly intoxicated.
Historically, dram shop acts make establishments which sell alcoholic drinks to visibly intoxicated patrons strictly liable to anybody injured by the drunken patron. N.J.S.A. 2A:22A-1 to -7, New Jersey's Dram Shop Act, was created with three objectives in mind. First, the Legislature wanted to carefully define the limits of liability for liquor licensees, such as Tiffany's Restaurant, making liability coverage for such establishments more available and affordable. Second, the statute was made to encourage liquor licensees to be careful in their service of alcohol, warning them of liability when serving alcohol to visibly intoxicated patrons. Third, the statute was made to allow for recovery by victims who have been injured as a result of a liquor licensee's negligent service of alcohol.
Tiffany's Restaurant moved to dismiss the complaint filed by Mr. Voss citing another New Jersey statute, N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4.5(b) which asserts that any person who is convicted of, or pleads guilty to, operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, shall have no cause of action for recovery of economic or noneconomic loss sustained as a result of the accident. Tiffany's motion to dismiss was denied by the trial court and again denied on appeal by the Superior Court, Appellate Division.
Here, the New Jersey Supreme Court found that N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4.5(b) was created mainly to reduce automobile insurance premiums and that its scope needed to be restricted to such areas. If N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4.5(b) was allowed a broad interpretation, sections of New Jersey's Dram Shop Act would have to be repealed, freeing negligent liquor licensees from liability and going against the main directive of the Dram Shop Act: curbing drunk driving.
The holding of this case may require New Jersey liquor license holders to increase their diligence in not serving visibly intoxicated patrons. It will be interesting to see if the New Jersey State Legislature will amend the Dram Shop Act based on the Court's holding.
Should you have further questions regarding the liquor license laws of New Jersey we urge you to consult an experienced New Jersey ABC/Liquor license lawyer who will answer any questions you may have. Call (732) 540-1233.
Voss v. Tranquilino, Supreme Court of New Jersey, A-110, September Term 2009, argued March 14, 2011, decided June 1, 2011.
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