Have you or a loved one suffered injuries as a result of a drunk driving accident? Drunk driving accidents are unfortunately common, not just in New Jersey, but throughout the entire country.
It has been reported that someone in the United States is killed by a drunk driver every 51 minutes. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also states that 31% of all fatal car accidents in the United States are a result of someone driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Every year, the American public fronts the cost of $71.6 billion in injuries, arrests, and property damage that were brought upon by a drunk driving incident.
If you or a loved one have fallen victim to the negligent actions of a drunk driver, what are you entitled to? Who is responsible for financial reimbursement in the event of a drunk driving accident in the state of New Jersey? Logic would state that all legal ramifications fall upon the shoulders of the individual who was driving drunk, but that’s not always the case.
Insurance companies help to ease the burden, if certain conditions are met. But a little-known New Jersey law also could hold bars, restaurants, liquor stores, and even private social party hosts accountable for the actions of a drunk driver.
Because New Jersey is a no-fault insurance state, each driver’s Personal Injury Protection insurance covers any damages that they might sustain in an auto accident. So, if you are the victim of a drunk driving accident, the first step you need to take is to file a personal injury claim with your insurance provider.
They will cover costs associated with lost wages, wherein an individual is unable to work as a result of the injuries they’ve received in an auto accident.
PIP insurance also covers hospital care and other medical expenses. These include visits to a doctor, hospital stays, ambulance services, medication, testing, and even physical therapy.
If a family member or loved one is killed in an auto accident, death benefits are paid out by their PIP provider to a living spouse or next of kin. PIP will also cover funeral expenses up to $1,000 in most cases.
The Drunk Driver
Your ability to press charges against the offending drunk driver is dictated by your PIP coverage. You’ve either got a limited or unlimited right to sue.
Those with unlimited rights can sue for punitive damages as well as monetary damages, including mental anguish plus pain/suffering. Limited right to sue policy holders can only sue in the event of a permanent injury such as disfigurement, the loss of a body part, scarring, or death. Pregnant mothers who lose their unborn child as a result of a drunk driving accident also have the right to sue regardless of insurance coverage.
Restaurants, Liquor Stores, and Bars
This law is called the Dram Shop Law.
It states that individuals who have sustained injuries resulting from a drunk driving accident may seek damages from the vendor who served the driver alcohol if:
- The drunk driver was visibly intoxicated at the time they were served.
- The drunk driver was a minor or under the age of 21 when served by the establishment.
New Jersey’s specific Dram Shop law does not extend to drunk drivers themselves. In other words, even if the intoxicated individual was injured in the accident, they cannot turn around and sue the establishment that served them alcohol.
Dram Shop law extends beyond auto accidents. Anyone injured in any way by someone who is intoxicated has a right to sue the establishment that served them, provided that the above criteria have been met.
That’s why, if you’re a restaurant or liquor store owner, it is imperative that your employees monitor your patrons to determine their level of intoxication. Overserving, or serving to a minor could have disastrous and costly legal ramifications on your establishment.
Private Home Owners
Let’s say Bob is at a housewarming party for his friends Bill and Lisa. While at the party, Bob has a lot to drink. He is stumbling and slurring his words. Bill and Lisa roll their eyes but decide that Bob is an adult who can make his own decisions and do nothing to stop him from consuming more alcohol and then getting in his car and driving away.
On the way home, Bob causes an accident in his drunken state that causes the fatality of a pedestrian and injures another motorist. Bob is in a lot of trouble, but so are Bill and Lisa.
Social Host liability law in New Jersey affects private home owners who are having a party at their residence. Because Bill and Lisa allowed Bob to become inebriated in their home and then stood by while he left in his car, they are liable. The injured motorist and the family of the slain pedestrian can press charges against Bob, Bill, and Lisa for their respective roles in this tragedy.
Bill and Lisa would be found at fault if:
- Bob was visibly impaired in their direct presence.
- Bob was a minor or an adult under the legal drinking age of 21.
- Bill and Lisa provided Bob with beverages under circumstances that manifest reckless disregard of any consequences.
- The circumstances under which Bob was served presented unreasonable levels of risk against property or life.
Much like our earlier example, Bob is unable to press any charges against Bill or Lisa, himself. Bob is found at fault for his own actions, whereas Bill and Lisa’s liability is extended to third parties that were directly threatened by their negligence.
Parties injured by a drunk driver are allowed to seek punitive damages against establishments or social hosts, which are intended to punish rather than rectify. Dram Shop claims must be filed within two years of the date of injury to be heard by a New Jersey judge.
If you or a loved one have suffered injuries as a result of a drunk driving accident, the law offices of Marc A. Futterweit stand at the ready to make sure that you receive every penny you are owed. For more information, call 973-442-0200, or visit us online.