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Should Drunk Drivers Be Allowed To Sue The Bars That Served Them?

Submitted by on June 7, 2011 – 8:47 amNo Comment

An interesting ruling just came down in the Garden State: According to a judgement made by New Jersey’s Supreme Court, a convicted drunk driver can sue the bar that served him or her.

That’s right. All those Long Island Iced Teas and Bud Lights you guzzled down before heading out into the night and catching a case? Those are now on the bar—literally—if something bad happens to you. The ruling stems from a 2006 motorcycle crash in which a New Jersey man was found to have a blood-alcohol level of .196 percent—nearly two-and-a-half times the legal limit of .08 percent—after he got into an accident on his way home from a restaurant in Toms River, N.J. Later on, the man decided he wanted to sue the restaurant because they negligently kept serving him alcohol despite his apparent inebriated condition. And the N.J. Supreme Court actually agreed with him—and gave him the right to sue.

We probably don’t need to tell you why this ruling is so ridiculous—but we will anyway. For starters, the ruling puts bars, nightclubs, and restaurants in New Jersey (and other parts of the country, for that matter) at a serious disadvantage moving forward. On the one hand, they want to make lots of money—they’re a business after all!—and they don’t want to stop Joe Blow from buying shots for the entire bar if that’s what he really wants to do. But on the other hand, they also don’t want to serve a customer too many drinks and possibly be held liable for him or her getting into an accident at a later point in the night.

The ruling is also ridiculous because, as of right now, there’s no surefire way to know whether a bar patron is legally drunk, illegally drunk, or, hell, if he or she has a ride home and even needs to be concerned with how drunk he or she actually is. Of course, you could simply ask the patron, but in a crowded nightclub where bartenders can’t possibly keep tabs on everyone, is this really a realistic solution to this problem? Additionally, it’s not like there’s a way for establishments to test the blood-alcohol level of patrons unless they have an on-site breathalizer. And since every person handles alcohol a little differently—news flash: Not everyone gets drunk and acts like a total ass—it’s hard for places to detect who is obliterated at the bar and who is simply acting out. So, how are bartenders supposed to know who to cut off?

But the real reason this ruling is a bad thing for all of society? It makes it seem as though the person who gets drunk and then decides to get behind the wheel of a car—or, in this case, decides to get on a motorcycle—is not to blame. It makes it seem like they are the victims in drunk-driving situations and that the bars they frequented should be required to pay for their wrong-doing. And this, quite frankly, absolutely should not be the case.

Look, I’m not saying that bars don’t have some responsibility when it comes to limiting drunk drivers on the road, too. Bartenders need to keep their eyes peeled when it comes to spotting people who could possibly be planning to drive after drinking and limit the number of times they serve them. They need to take their keys away when possible or cut them off if they do get inebriated. And they need to do everything in their power to prevent drunk driving from occurring.

But they can only do so much. And for the sake of the rest of society, Supreme Courts across the country cannot start holding them accountable for the poor decisions made by their customers. At some point, the court system has to say “enough is enough” and take a stand against drunk driving. Otherwise, it will continue and people will feel like they have someone to blame for their actions.

So, don’t turn the bars and restaurants into scapegoats, New Jersey. It’s simply not fair.

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