Timothy E. Gilsbach
is an attorney with Fox Rothschild
It's that time of year when people like to party and get together with friends for a good time. Unfortunately, many will go to places that serve alcohol and have too much to drink before driving. Some will be hurt or killed as a result.
Remarkable as it may seem, those who choose to drink too much in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have the right to bring lawsuits against establishments that serve them the alcohol. Their family members also may bring such suits.
By allowing such lawsuits, Pennsylvania and New Jersey essentially reward bad decisions. Rather then encouraging people to drink responsibly, this kind of liability allows those who drink to do so without financial responsibility. They can look to others to blame and pay the bills for their bad decisions.
Most states that have considered the issue have decided not to allow such liability for the simple reason that it fails to put responsibility where it belongs - on those who choose to drink. It allows those who drink to take no responsibility for their poor choices, knowing the legal blame can fall elsewhere.
Bars and other establishments have acquired this liability through judicial activism. In both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, legislators have never created a right for those who drink too much to blame the establishments that served them alcohol. This right was created by the courts.
In Pennsylvania, in fact, a statute passed by the legislature clearly limits this cause of legal action to third parties - i.e., innocent parties injured by an intoxicated patron - and creates no such right for the drinker. But in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the courts - on the basis of their own view of what's in the public interest - have create a cause of action that legislatures have not approved.
By abolishing this cause of action, Pennsylvania and New Jersey would not be turning a blind eye to the real problems of those who drink and drive. To the contrary, they would be holding such individuals personally responsible for their actions.
Nor would drinking establishments be free of responsibility for their actions. A number of other laws and regulations allow for those who serve alcohol irresponsibly to be punished in other respects, including suspension of their liquor licenses. And establishments in Pennsylvania would continue to be liable under the law to third parties injured by their patrons, ensuring they will serve alcohol responsibly.
It's time for state lawmakers to put an end to this misguided policy created by the courts. Pennsylvania and New Jersey need to put the responsibility for drinking back on those who choose to drink.