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Understanding dram shop laws and your drunk driving accident

Drunk driving is a preventable act that results in numerous unnecessary deaths and injuries each year. One of the ways to prevent drunk driving is for establishments that serve alcohol to exercise care in how much they serve to their patrons. Today, there are a series of laws that govern the legal responsibilities of businesses that serve alcohol. These so-called "dram shop laws" outline the liabilities alcohol vendors incur with regards to potential lawsuits filed by their customers.

At least 30 states have laws on the books that contain statutes holding licensed businesses like restaurants, bars and liquor stores liable in certain situations. In these states, customers who have gone on to cause injuries or death as a result of being overserved are allowed to sue those businesses that provided them with the alcohol.

In Louisiana, licensed businesses are exempt from liability except in cases where an establishment has provided alcohol to underage customers. Amazingly, licensed alcohol serving businesses in Nevada and South Dakota are completely exempt from liability.

Here in New Jersey, it's a different story. The Garden State is one of 22 states that limit liability on the basis of serving alcohol to underage persons and individuals who are obviously intoxicated. In other words, there are restrictions against suing a licensed restaurant, bar or nightclub unless they have overserved you, or they provided alcohol to underage customers.

However, a 2011 case highlights an important exception in New Jersey's dram shop laws. In that case, the New Jersey Supreme Court found that the dram shop limitations did not extend to a New Jersey man who had been drinking at an establishment and was later involved in a motorcycle accident. That man was later convicted of DWI and had a blood alcohol concentration level more than 2.5 times the legal limit at the time of his accident. The court found that although insurance claims against the establishment were barred, the defendant could still file claims against the tavern that overserved him.

As this article has revealed, dram shop laws are not always clear in every situation. If you suspect that a business contributed to your alcohol-related injuries you may have sufficient grounds to file a lawsuit. Your New Jersey personal injury attorney can visit with you and determine whether a claim for compensation may be warranted in your case.

Source: National Conference of State Legislatures, "Dram shop civil liability and criminal penalties and state statutes" accessed Feb. 18, 2015

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