New Jersey Drunk Driver Sues the Bar that Served Him

drink with warning labelIs it placing responsibility where it belongs? Or is it evading responsibility altogether? A New Jersey lawsuit is making people wonder if they’ve thought dram shop laws through.

A motorcyclist named Antonio Salomon-Merlino stopped in a bar in Kearny, N.J. and tied on a couple of tequila cocktails before riding to another bar in Clifton and having several more. Even Salomon-Merlino’s lawyer admitted publicly that her client was intoxicated.

The predictable thing happened – a crash – with an unpredictable result: Salomon-Merlino is suing the bars for serving him when they should have known he was drunk.

Does a Dram Shop Law Protect Drinkers?

According to a law known as a dram shop law, which almost all states have, a drinking establishment can be sued by the victim of a drunk driver for failing to cut the person off. The law was designed to place some responsibility on those serving drinks. Before such laws bar owners and other servers  took no responsibility for the actions of those whose intoxication they had caused or contributed to – or the sometimes lethal consequences of those actions. Once the laws were in place, victims had some recourse.

However, the victims who sue are usually sober person harmed by the drunk driver – not the drunk driver himself. The latter case is called a “first party dram shop law case.”

It’s hard to tell how far the case will go, but it does raise a couple of questions: how responsible is a person for his or her drinking?  And how responsible is that person after he or she has had a few drinks?

Some would argue that the driver, being an adult, drank of his own volition. No one forced him to down the tequilas. That is the predominant view on social media where this case is being discussed.

Others would argue that a bartender has an obligation to society not to release drunk drivers onto the roads. If a drinker is making a poor decision (as they do) then the server must exercise good judgement.

A sound legal argument, or utter gall. What do you think?