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Injury or death caused by a drunk driver is perhaps the most upsetting, anger-provoking of all kinds of personal injury cases. The thought of an innocent victim suffering serious or fatal injury at the hands of an irresponsible individual can evoke outrage among members of the community. At Law Office of Charney & Roberts, we aggressively pursue claims against irresponsible drinkers and the bars, nightclubs, and restaurants that improperly serve them. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, drunk drivers caused more than 1.2 million injuries and deaths in 2001 (See Drunk Driver FAQ). Although the law can never replace a loved one, it does provide means of recovery for victims. Victims can sue the drunk driver under the general laws of negligence, but often the drunk driver is either uninsured or under-insured and has few, if any, assets to support a lawsuit.
Even if there is no way to pursue recovery against the drunk driver, there may be a way to pursue recovery against the person who provided the alcoholic beverage to the drunk driver. People who serve alcoholic beverages may be liable under New Jersey law for damages resulting from the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Liability may be imposed either under specific state laws (“dram shop acts”) or under the general law of negligence. Dram shop acts (“dram” was once a common term for “liquor”) are laws that impose liability for negligence on the sellers of alcoholic beverages for sales to persons under the legal drinking age or to those who are obviously intoxicated. A liquor store, bar or restaurant may be responsible for any damages caused by a person’s drinking if it sold alcohol to an underage person or to a person who was obviously intoxicated. Linn v. Rand, 140 N.J. Super. 212, 356 A.2d 15 (App. Div. 1976).
Liability can attach to “social hosts” as well. A social host is an individual who serves alcoholic beverages in a social setting, such as a home or a party, or as where an employer serves alcoholic beverages at a company. The social host is not required to make sure that no one is consuming more alcohol than they can handle unless the host can reasonably be aware of a problem and prevent it. In New Jersey, a person can be held responsible for serving alcohol to a “visibly intoxicated” person of legal drinking age if an injury results from a motor vehicle accident caused by the intoxicated person. A social host can also be held responsible for serving alcohol to a minor. Linn v. Rand, 140 N.J. Super. 212, 356 A.2d 15 (App. Div. 1976)
Thirty-nine percent (39%) of all traffic fatalities in 2005 were alcohol related — meaning either the driver of the crash vehicle or non-occupant (e.g., a pedestrian or a bicyclist) had a blood alcohol concentration of at least 0.01 gram per deciliter (g/dL). The 16,885 alcohol-related traffic fatalities in 2005 represent a 5% reduction from the 17,732 alcohol-related fatalities in 1995. The U.S. is making progress toward reducing alcohol-related traffic fatalities.
On average one alcohol-related fatality occurs every 31 minutes. Of the 16,885 people who died in alcohol-related crashes in 2005, 14,539 (86%) were killed in crashes where at least one driver or non-occupant had a BAC of .08 g/dL or higher. An estimated 254,000 persons were injured in crashes where police reported that alcohol was present In 2004, an estimated 1.4 million drivers were arrested for drunk driving. This is an arrest rate of 1 for every 139 licensed drivers in the United States.
In fatal crashes in 2005, the highest percentage of drivers with BAC levels .08 g/dL or higher was for drivers ages 21-24 (32%), followed by ages 25-34 (28%) and 35-44 (23%).
In 2005, a total of 414 (21%) of the fatalities among children age 14 and younger occurred in crashes involving alcohol. Of those 414 fatalities, more than half (224) of those killed were passengers in vehicles with drivers who had been drinking.
Which other subgroups are most likely to be involved in fatal alcohol-related crashes?
Male drivers who die in motor vehicle crashes are almost twice as likely as female drivers to be legally drunk (BAC of 0.08 g/dL or greater). The highest intoxication rates among drivers in fatal crashes in 2005 were drivers ages 21-24 (32%), followed by ages 25-34 (28%) and 35-44 (23%).
Each year alcohol-related crashes cost the U.S. $51 billion annually in direct cost, loss of earnings and household productivity.