man holding liquor glass with car keys on the bar

What Do Dram Shop Laws Allow?

A dram shop law case is a legal remedy available to those who suffer injury due to the actions of an intoxicated individual. Dram shop laws allow victims and their families to file claims against bars, restaurants, and other establishments for injuries sustained in drunk driving accidents and other incidents arising from negligent service of alcohol.

Many states have enacted dram laws, and New Jersey and New York are no exception. Dram shop laws vary from state to state, and it is important to understand the differences and what they mean for your claim.

Call Maggiano, DiGirolamo & Lizzi at (201) 585-9111 today for a FREE review of your dram shop law case. Our attorneys serve clients throughout New Jersey and New York.

What Does New Jersey’s Dram Shop Law Allow?

New Jersey’s dram shop law (New Jersey Statutes § 2A:22A-5) allows the victims of “personal injury or property damage as a result of the negligent service of alcoholic beverages” to pursue claims against a bar, restaurant, or other establishment in the following situations:

  • The establishment served alcohol to a “visibly intoxicated” person; or,
  • The establishment served alcohol to a minor (a person under the age of 21) “under circumstances where the server knew, or reasonably should have known, that the person served was a minor.”

In New Jersey, the establishment cannot use the fact that a patron was already drunk as a defense. Additionally, as it applies to patrons who are under 21, the law does not require actual knowledge that the patron is a minor. Since New Jersey law requires businesses that serve and sell alcohol to check their customers’ IDs, bars and other establishments can be held liable if they should have known an individual was under 21.

What Does New York’s Dram Shop Law Allow? 

New York’s dram shop law (New York General Obligations § 11-101) is similar to the one in New Jersey. In New York, the victims of drunk driving accidents and other injuries caused by an intoxicated person can sue bars, restaurants, and other establishments when these establishments are responsible for “unlawful selling to or unlawfully assisting in procuring liquor for [an] intoxicated person, hav[ing] caused or contributed to such [person’s] intoxication.”

The New York state courts have interpreted NY GOB § 11-101 to allow dram shop claims under two primary circumstances:

  • The establishment served alcohol to a person who is visibly intoxicated; or,
  • The establishment served alcohol to a person who was “actually or apparently” under 21 years of age.

If a bar, restaurant, or other vendor serves alcohol under either of these circumstances, then the establishment can be held liable for injuries stemming from this negligence. As with the dram shop law in New Jersey, establishments cannot use the person’s intoxication at the time of service as a defense in a dram shop law case. “Contributing to” the individual’s intoxication (provided the intoxication is visible at the time of service) exposes the establishment to liability for accidents stemming from the patron’s drunk driving and other actions.

Damages Available in a Dram Shop Case

In both New Jersey and New York, individuals and families who have a dram shop law claim can seek full compensation for the losses they sustain due to the negligence of the intoxicated person and the establishment that served the alcohol. This includes damages that are economic and non-economic in nature.

For example, damages that may be recovered for a drunk driving accident include:

  • Medical bills, prescription costs, and other out-of-pocket expenses
  • Lost earnings and future earning capacity
  • Pain and suffering, emotional trauma, loss of consortium, and other forms of non-economic loss

In a wrongful death case, the surviving family members of a victim who dies in a drunk driving accident may be entitled to compensation for losses such as:

  • Any medical bills incurred prior to the victim’s death
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Loss of income, insurance, and retirement benefits
  • Loss of consortium, companionship, emotional support, protection, and other forms of non-economic loss

Punitive damages may also be awarded under certain circumstances:

“Punitive damages may be awarded to the plaintiff only if the plaintiff proves, by clear and convincing evidence, that the harm suffered was the result of the defendant‘s acts or omissions, and such acts or omissions were actuated by actual malice or accompanied by a wanton and willful disregard of persons who foreseeably might be harmed by those acts or omissions.”

New Jersey Statutes § 2A:15-5.12

“In order to award punitive damages, [the court] must find circumstances of aggravation or outrage, such as spite or malice or other evil motive on the part of the defendant, and a conscious and deliberate disregard of the plaintiffs interests …”

Raedle v. Credit Agricole Indosuez, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

A lawyer well-versed in dram shop law can determine whether the court may award you punitive damages. Punitive damages awards are rare. However, violating the laws concerning drunk driving and serving alcohol to an intoxicated or underage individual might meet the threshold in your state.

Get Help with Your Dram Shop Law Case Today

Making a claim against an establishment that negligently served alcohol to an individual who caused you harm can be challenging. It is crucial to seek knowledgeable counsel if you were injured in a drunk driving accident or other incident caused by an intoxicated person.

Contact Maggiano, DiGirolamo & Lizzi today for a FREE case review. Our firm has offices in Fort Lee and New York City, and we handle dram shop law cases throughout New Jersey and New York.