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NJ Supreme Court Rules No Independent Duty to Monitor Alcohol Consumption

January 27, 2009

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Alcohol related injuries and fatalities present difficult cases that frequently turn on the fine factual determination of whether someone is " visibly intoxicated." In New Jersey, a licensed alcoholic beverage server is liable only if he serves a "visibly intoxicated" person and that service proximately causes an accident. What happens if the license holder does not actual serve the alcohol but rather arranges for a beer truck to be available for patrons to self serve their own alcohol? Can the server be found negligent for failure to properly monitor the alchohol consumption of its guests even in the absence of a finding that it served or "allowed to be served" a visibly intoxicated person?
In <i>Mazzacano v. Happy Hour Social and Athletic Club of Maple Shade</i>, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that the self service of alcohol by patrons is tantamount to service by the Club. Thus, the Club would be potentially liable if a patron serves himself from the beer truck while visibly intoxciated. It is not required that an employee of the Club put the drink directly in the hand of the drunk. Rather the Club is liable if it either serves or "allows" a visibly intoxicated person to be served. In <i>Mazzano</i>, the Club "allows" a patron to be served by making alcohol available from a self service beer truck.
Further, and more to the point in <i>Mazzacano</i>, there is no separate and independent duty to monitor the alcohol consumption of the patrons. If the Club did not serve or allow to be served a visibly intoxicated person, there can be no liability. The plaintiff cannot avoid this requirement by arguing that the Club was negligent because it failed to properly monitor the alcohol consumption of its guests. Thus the Club cannot be liable because the jury concluded that the drunk did not appear "visibly intoxicated" when he served himself from the beer truck.
Bottom line: licensed servers are strictly held to the requirements of New Jersey's Dram Shop Act but the courts should be reluctant to impose additional requirements.
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