On June 1, 2011, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided Frederick W. Voss v. Kristoffe J. Tranquilino, et al. In that case, the plaintiff was injured in a motorcycle accident. Plaintiff maintained that prior to the accident he was negligently served alcoholic beverages at Tiffany's Restaurant which contributed to the accident and caused his injuries. Tiffany's moved to dismiss the complaint based on the bar to litigation contained in N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4.5(b), which states that a driver who is convicted of or pleads guilty to DWI in connection with an accident "shall have no cause of action for recovery of economic or noneconomic loss sustained as a result of the accident."
The Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division's decision by agreeing that the Dram Shop Act, N.J.S.A. 2A-22A-1 to -7, provides the exclusive civil remedy for injuries resulting from the negligent service of alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person by a liquor licensee. The Supreme Court reasoned that it was far from clear that by adopting N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4.5(b), the Legislature meant to engage in an implied repeal of the contrary provisions and policy set forth in the Dram Shop Act. Instead, the Legislature's purpose in enacting N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4.5(b) was to effect automobile insurance reform. The Court also noted that the bar to litigation in N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4.5(b) can coexist with the Dram Shop Act's deterrence and liability-imposing principles. More specifically, an intoxicated person is deterred from driving drunk by losing the right to sue for insurance coverage for his injuries. On the other hand, permitting an injured drunk driver to file an action against a liquor establishment and its servers for serving a visibly intoxicated patron similarly advances the goal of deterring drunk driving. In an action by an injured drunk against a liquor establishment and its servers to proceed, the application of comparative negligence principles can properly apportion the responsibility for damages between the dram shop parties and the injured party. Notably, Justice Albin and Justice Rivera-Soto dissented.