Bill would overturn N.J. SC's drunk-driving decision

John O'Brien Jul. 1, 2011, 12:23pm


TRENTON, N.J. (Legal Newsline) - Legislation has been introduced in New Jersey's legislature that would overturn a state Supreme Court decision that argued lawsuits against bars by drunk drivers can deter drunk driving.

Assemlyman John Amodeo, a Republican, is the bill's sponsor. It would prohibit drunk drivers from suing restaurants for injuries they sustained while driving drunk.

A month ago, the state Supreme Court allowed persons convicted of a DUI offense to sue restaurants. The court wrote that the bar to litigation in N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4.5(b) can coexist with the Dram Shop Act's deterrence and liability-imposing principles.

"An intoxicated person is deterred from driving drunk by losing the right to sue under Title 39 for insurance coverage for his injuries. On the other hand, permitting an injured drunk driver to file an action against a liquor establishment and its servers for serving a visibly intoxicated patron similarly advances the goal of deterring drunk driving," the Court wrote.

"In allowing the latter form of action to proceed, rather than barring it by N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4.5(b), the application of established principles of comparative negligence will apportion properly the responsibility for damages as between dram shop parties and the injured driver."

New Jersey Lawsuit Reform Alliance executive director Marcus Rayner was critical of the decision when it was released.

"Common sense is being downgraded to the point where drunk drivers can now relinquish personal responsibility and collect monetary damages from the restaurateur serving them drinks," he said Thursday.

The case stems from a 2006 incident in which Fredrick Voss crashed his motorcycle into a car and injured himself.

His blood alcohol level was nearly two-and-a-half times the legal limit. He pleaded guilty to a DWI charge but later filed suit against Tiffany's Restaurant in Toms River under the state's Dram Shop Act.

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