Defense verdict in a two-week jury trial for a tavern in a Dram Shop Act case.
We obtained a defense verdict in a two-week jury trial in Middlesex County, New Jersey, in a case against a tavern alleged to have violated the New Jersey Licensed Alcoholic Beverage Server Fair Liability Act (aka The Dram Shop Act).
The plaintiff claimed the bar violated the Act by serving a patron—a settled co-defendant—alcohol while he was visibly intoxicated, resulting in that patron driving drunk and colliding with the plaintiff’s vehicle. The plaintiff suffered significant injuries to her neck, requiring two cervical fusion surgeries. Police were unable to obtain objective proof of the patron’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) via a blood sample or breathalyzer. The tavern had no record of the patron, who paid cash for his beverages, and first learned of the accident upon being served with a complaint more than nine months later.
At trial, the plaintiff relied on the patron’s deposition testimony as to the timing of three different drinks he consumed at the bar, as well as a toxicology expert, to prove liability. The expert, in providing an opinion as to what the patron’s BAC would have been “while at or when leaving the bar,” used a dose reconstruction methodology based upon the patron’s testimony. However, on cross-examination, we were able to establish that the expert’s calculations of the amount of pure alcohol ingested by the patron were erroneous and unreliable and that the expert never provided an opinion as to whether the patron was visibly intoxicated at the time of service—the key issue in any Dram Shop case.
We also presented a credible toxicology expert on behalf of the defendant, who provided the jury a visual timeline of events to demonstrate that at the time the patron was last served alcohol (more than an hour before the accident), his BAC would have been well below the .15 threshold whereby most people would show visible signs of intoxication. We further argued that, despite any sympathy the jury may feel for the plaintiff, she failed to meet her burden of proving that the patron was exhibiting “clear signs of intoxication” at the time of service, as required by the statute. The jury agreed.