On September 3, 2003, 19-year-old Frederick Nesbitt was underaged at “Wing Night” at the C View Inn in Cape May, New Jersey, so the waitress at the bar only served him soda while his companions drank pitchers of beer. (His 21-year-old companion James Hamby had a suspended license for drunk driving.) But Nesbitt had been drinking rum and drinking beer with the others before they got to the bar; and Hamby spiked Nesbitt’s drinks with rum under the table at the bar, which was presumably busy serving sixty other people and didn’t notice. So Nesbitt had a 0.199 blood-alcohol level when, speeding, he “lost control [of his car], careening back and forth across the road before striking a guard rail and landing on the driver’s side. He was thrown out the rear window while Hamby, who was found in the car, was pronounced dead at the scene.” Nesbitt is serving a five-year prison term for vehicular homicide, but Hamby’s estate is suing the bar. (It settled with Nesbitt for his $50,000 insurance coverage.)
The lower court threw out the case since the bar didn’t serve Nesbitt any alcohol, but a New Jersey appellate court ruled that the bar has a duty to arrange transportation for anyone who walks in who appears to be drunk “regardless of whether Nesbitt’s intoxication resulted from the service of alcohol by the inn or from other causes” (notwithstanding the absence of such a cause of action under the dramshop statute) so the bar will now have to hope the jury credits the witnesses who say that Nesbitt didn’t appear drunk. (Mary Pat Gallagher, “N.J. Court: Bar May Be Liable for Fatal Crash Even if It Didn’t Serve Patron Alcohol”, NJ Law J, Mar. 24; Tom Hester & Abby Green, “Court adds to taverns’ duty toward safe driving”, Newark Star-Ledger, Mar. 21; Insurance Journal, Mar. 21; AP, Mar. 20; NJLawman.com message board).
If your drinks appear more expensive in New Jersey, it’s because you’re paying for insurance for drunk drivers who might stop at the bar to use the restroom. Of course, why stop at bars? Why not convenience stores?