Imagine you have a small get together with your friends at your beach house rental, and you serve your guests alcohol. Then imagine that one of your guests drinks a little too much, and continues to help herself to drinks even after you have observed her stumbling and slurring her words. Later that night, she attempts to drive herself home, but collides with another car, severely injuring the other driver. In New Jersey, the injured victim can collect damages from both you, the social host, and from your intoxicated guest who caused the accident.
This is because under New Jersey law, social hosts that serve alcoholic beverages to adult guests, knowing that they are intoxicated and will be driving, can be held liable for any injuries inflicted upon an innocent third party. A social host is any person who invites another into their home and provides them with alcohol. In order to be considered a social host, you need not give an express invitation—an implied invitation will suffice. Social hosts can be held liable even when guests serve themselves at a party. So-called “social host” laws are intended to prevent drunk driving and minimize fatalities.
Social host liability laws are derived from “dram shop” laws. Dram shop laws enable injured victims to sue the bar when a visibly intoxicated patron was served prior to causing injury to a third party. Many years ago, judges were exposing tavern owners to ever increasing liability by broadening the applicability of these laws on a case-by-case basis. As a result, insurance premiums for bar owners skyrocketed. In response, the New Jersey legislature enacted the Licensed Alcoholic Beverage Server Fair Liability Act in order to protect the rights of those who suffered losses as a result of the negligent serving of drinks.
Both social hosts and bar owners can be held liable for third party injuries, but the drunk driver can also be held liable. This is because courts apply something called “comparative negligence” in apportioning liability. This means that a jury will decide how much the social host (or bar owner) is to blame relative to the intoxicated driver. One of the most hotly contested issues in these cases is how much the guest was able to appreciate the risk of harm while consuming alcohol at the party. For example, if a host served his guests straight vodka, but described the drinks as light cocktails, the host may be responsible for paying a greater share of the compensation to any injured victims.
Social hosts that serve visibly intoxicated guests can be held liable for an injured third party’s:
- Medical bills
- Costs for rehabilitation and therapy
- Lost wages
- Property damage
- Pain and suffering
- Value of household and childcare services the person otherwise would have performed had they not been injured
- Loss of consortium to the injured party’s spouse
In New Jersey, those injured as a result of negligent serving of alcohol are also entitled to punitive damages. Punitive damages are very high damage awards designed to punish particularly egregious behavior.
If you are planning a party, it is important to consider that your guests will need to get home safely. If you see that one of your guests is visibly intoxicated, you should either invite them to spend the night, arrange for someone to drive them home, or as a last resort, involve the authorities.
New Jersey Drunk Driving Lawyer Edward M. Janzekovich Provides Experienced DWI – DUI Defense
If you have been charged with drunk driving, there are many issues to consider. Not only will you need a skilled lawyer to defend you against criminal drunk driving charges, but you may also be facing civil liability if anyone has been injured. Edward M. Janzekovich has vast experience defending people just like you who have been charged with DUI. He understands the fear and anxiety you may be feeling, and strives to give each and every client peace of mind by explaining what to expect in simple terms. To schedule a free consultation, call us at 732-257-1137 or contact us online today. We serve clients throughout New Jersey, including Ocean County, Monmouth County, Mercer County, Middlesex County, Union County and Somerset County.