Suppose you suffered an alcohol-related injury in New Jersey. Maybe you were hit by a drunk driver, or hurt by an intoxicated neighbor at a pool party. You might make a claim for compensation ("damages," in legal-speak) against the person who injured you. But what if they don't have insurance or other assets to pay for your injuries?
Like many states, New Jersey has "dram shop" and "social host liability" statutes that might allow you to recover damages from whoever sold alcohol to the person who hurt you. After a quick review of liquor liability laws generally, we'll take a closer look at what New Jersey law has to say.
For much of our country's history, liquor liability—laws making someone who sells or furnishes alcohol legally responsible for the damages caused by their drunk customers or guests—was the exception, not the rule. Why? Alcohol-related accidents were thought to be caused by drinking alcohol, not by furnishing it. That's still the prevailing thought in many states today.
This general rule of nonliability often produced unfair results, like those described in our introduction. In response, state lawmakers (and in some cases, state courts) crafted liquor liability laws. These laws commonly come in one of two forms.
Dram shop laws. Long ago, bars and taverns sold liquor by a measurement called a "dram." Customers started calling these businesses "dram shops." Today, a dram shop law is usually a statute that makes a liquor licensee—a person or business licensed by the state to sell alcohol—liable for injuries caused by their drunk customers. Most often, liability is limited to cases where the customer was underage or was clearly drunk when the licensee provided them with alcohol.
Social host liability laws. Though less common than dram shop laws, many states also have social host liability laws. "Social host" is just a fancy legal name for someone who hosts a party or other social function. When the liquor flows freely, guests occasionally overindulge. A social host liability law makes the party host responsible for injuries caused by drunk party guests. In some states, social hosts are only liable for providing alcohol (or a place to drink it) to minors.
You'll find New Jersey's dram shop act at title 2A, chapter 22A, of the New Jersey statutes. A licensee is liable for injuries caused by furnishing alcoholic beverages only when these three elements are satisfied.
The licensee was negligent. A licensee is negligent when the licensee furnishes alcohol to:
Visible intoxication means acting in a way that shows "clear signs" of intoxication. (N.J. Stat. § 2A:22A-3 (2023).)
The negligence caused injury. The licensee's negligence in furnishing alcohol to a visibly intoxicated or underage customer must have caused injuries.
The injuries were foreseeable. The resulting injuries must have been a foreseeable result of the licensee's negligence.
(N.J. Stat. § 2A:22A-5 (2023).)