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March 25th, 2013

NJ Bar & Restaurant Alcohol Liability Legal Update – Halvorsen v. Villamil

New Jersey Superior Court Finds in Favor of Car Accident Victims Injured by Drunk Driver/Bar Patron

Earlier this month, the New Jersey Superior Court reversed a lower court decision which held in favor of a bar/restaurant which had been sued for negligence in serving alcohol. In general, cases involving bar and restaurant liability for negligence in serving alcohol can be difficult to prove. This new case makes the burden of proof in these cases easier.

In Halvorsen v. Villamil, et al., the Superior Court was faced with the issue of whether the New Jersey Licensed Alcoholic Beverage Server Fair Liability Act (AKA: the Dram Shop Act), requires an eyewitness to prove that the person was visibly intoxicated when served alcohol. The court found that New Jersey’s Dram Shop Act contains no such requirement.

In the case, the plaintiffs were injured in a car accident caused by a driver who had left a bar/restaurant, a T.G.I. Fridays, approximately 20 minutes before. The driver’s blood alcohol was almost .03.

Plaintiffs sued both the DUI driver and the bar and claimed that the bar had served the driver while he was visibly intoxicated, a violation of the New Jersey Dram Shop Act. Read more about New Jersey law and bar and restaurant liability for serving alcohol.

The plaintiffs produced no eyewitnesses who testified that the driver looked visibly intoxicated while at the bar. Instead, they produced evidence of the following:

  • the accident occurred within 20 minutes after the driver left the bar,
  • the driver struck the plaintiffs’ car so hard it flipped over on its side,
  • the driver had serious injuries but told officers he was not in pain,
  • the driver smelled of alcohol, and
  • the driver’s blood alcohol, which was drawn an hour after the accident, was .0278.

They also presented the report of a forensic expert, Richard Saferstein, a retired Chief Forensic Scientist of the New Jersey State Police. Dr. Saferstein’s expert opinion bolstered the argument that the bar served alcohol even when the driver looked visibly intoxicated. Dr. Saferstein conducted an analysis which, based on the driver’s height, weight and the time he left the bar, determined that he would have consumed 17 servings of beer while at the bar.

The case may still be appealed. But for now, the case makes it easier to prove that a bar served a customer who was visibly intoxicated, in violation of NJ’s liquor liability or dram shop act.

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Bar/Restaurant Alcohol Liability Law Firm

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