New Jersey Court: Bars Liable Even When Drivers Get Drunk Elsewhere

March 21, 2008

New Jersey bars can be sued for the actions of drunken drivers who leave those establishments, even if the drivers consumed no alcohol while at the bars, a panel of judges has unanimously declared.

The ruling by the state appellate court centered on the estate of a 21-year-old who died in 2003 when a car driven by his 19-year-old intoxicated friend crashed on the Garden State Parkway.

The lawsuit opens the way for the estate of James Hamby to sue the C View Inn, a bar in Cape May, New Jersey, which he and the driver, Frederick Nesbitt, had visited that evening.

Nesbitt had not been drinking at the bar, although he and Hamby had been drinking prior to their arrival there, evidence in the case showed.

Hamby’s license had been suspended at the time for a drunken driving conviction. The two began drinking beer and rum in Nesbitt’s car, before arriving at the C View Inn to meet several friends, according to court documents.

A bartender at the C View Inn said she served Hamby and several other friends during the night, but denied providing alcohol to Nesbitt, whom she knew from high school and knew to be underage.

Hamby and three other friends drank several pitchers of beer during a rowdy several hours at the bar – over the course of which Hamby exposed himself to reveal a piercing on his genitals.

The court said that the bartenders should have recognized that Hamby was drunk and had a duty to protect him from foreseeable injury by seeing that he did not ride home with another patron whom was drunk.

Nesbitt’s blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit when taken after the crash.

The ruling reversed that of an earlier court; the panel of judges said a jury should determine whether the bar has any liability in Hamby’s death.

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