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New Jersey's Dram Shop Act Can Make You Responsible for Serving Alcohol at Your Party

It has long been recognized that the selling and serving of alcohol is privilege and not a right. That is why businesses in the liquor industry must apply for a license and undergo constant regulation to ensure they are meeting established standards of conduct. While it is widely understood that bars and restaurants can be held legally responsible for the over-consumption of alcohol by their customers, what many are unaware of is that, under New Jersey law, any individual acting as a social host can also suffer significant legal penalties for over-serving guests. Anytime alcohol is involved with a social function, the host must be wary of the legal consequences of allowing guests to consume too much alcohol such as DWI accidents.

Every two minutes, a person is injured in a drunk-driving-related accident. These accidents cost the United States $199 billion every year. Whenever an individual consumes any amount of alcohol, he or she becomes a liability to others on the road, particularly if that person has consumed too much alcohol. Currently, 43 states and the District of Columbia have laws in place to hold liquor sellers responsible for the injuries caused by their intoxicated patrons. Generally, under these laws bars and other establishments are not permitted to over-serve alcohol to patrons who appear visibly intoxicated. In 1987, in response to an abundance of alcohol-related accidents and deaths resulting from the over-consumption of alcohol in bars or other businesses, New Jersey enacted laws to hold these businesses legally responsible. Under the New Jersey Licensed Alcoholic Beverage Server Fair Liability Act, more often referred to as the Dram Shop Act, a claim for personal injury or property damage can be brought against a licensed alcoholic beverage server if alcohol was served to either a visibly intoxicated person or a minor and the service proximately caused foreseeable injuries.

In one of the most publicized cases from New Jersey, a two-year-old girl and her family were awarded $135 million after the girl was left paralyzed by a car accident with a drunk driver. The drunk driver had a blood-alcohol concentration double the legal limit after consuming a significant amount of alcohol at a New York Giants football game. Under New Jersey's Dram Shop laws, the licensed concessions at Giant's Stadium, where the driver was served, shared liability for the victim's injuries. Although this award was eventually appealed and overturned, the parties still settled for a significant sum of money.

The laws in New Jersey go one step further than holding just bars and taverns responsible for the actions of their intoxicated customers. In New Jersey, any social host, not just bar operators, who permits a guest to consume alcohol at their social gathering, can face significant legal penalties if that guest injures someone. Under the law, a social host can be anyone who gives alcoholic beverages to a guest that has been invited into their home or social function. By serving alcohol to any already-intoxicated individuals, the host becomes liable for any injuries they cause to third parties as a result of that intoxication. Even if the individual serves themselves alcohol at the party, the social host can still be found liable for any potential third party injuries.

Given that these individuals are not in the business of selling alcohol, they do not have to live up to the same strict regulations that a bar or tavern must meet. Instead, the law mandates that social hosts act reasonably and responsibly when serving alcohol to their guests. If a social host is aware or should be aware that one of their guests is intoxicated and continues to serve them, they may be liable for any injuries that result either at the function itself or when the intoxicated individuals drives away.

To ensure that a party guest does not become too intoxicated, there are several steps a social host can and should take. First, any social host should serve plenty of food and water at the event. Additionally, the host should ask that any guests who will be drinking turn over their car keys so that the host may ensure they are in a suitable mental state when leaving. Finally, if anyone appears to be in an inebriated state, they should be permitted to spend the night or, in the very least, a cab should be called to get them home safely. Allowing these individuals to leave puts not only them in danger, but also risks the lives of everyone else on the road.

A dram shop case can be very complex as the claims are incredibly difficult to prove, especially without the help of an experienced attorney. If you or someone you know has been injured by a drunk driver, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can ensure that you fully understand your rights under the law and help you determine whether a business or social host should be held accountable for any damage you may suffer.

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