Drunk drivers are more likely to cause motor vehicle accidents because their judgment and ability to react are diminished. Driving while intoxicated can be a serious criminal offense and may result in civil lawsuits. New Jersey imposes a Dram Shop Act that allows DUI crash victims to seek damages from bars, clubs, or restaurants for injuries caused by obviously intoxicated patrons they over-served with alcohol.
A wrongful death lawsuit was filed in Middlesex County by Donna Corrar, 55, of Old Bridge after suffering severe injuries when her car was struck head on by a drunk driver going the wrong way near the County Road 516 overpass. On Aug. 16, 2013, Ashley Sara Chieco, 26, of Wood-Ridge was picked up in the morning by a co-worker, and they proceeded to Martell’s in Point Pleasant Beach.
Reports said the two had not eaten all day and Chieco had consumed alcohol in the morning and afternoon. At about 5 p.m., Chieco left the bar, went to the parking lot, and drove an SUV that looked like hers. With a BAC level of 0.189, extremely intoxicated Chieco was driving north in a southbound lane on Route 18 and collided head on with Corrar’s vehicle. Both drivers were taken to New Brunswick’s Robert Wood Johnson Hospital, where Chieco was pronounced dead an hour later. Corrar suffered severe and permanent multiple bodily injuries. Chieco’s vehicle was later found in her parents’ driveway.
The wrongful death lawsuit, which did not specify an amount, claimed that bartenders at Martell’s Tiki Bar continued to serve alcohol to Chieco even though she was obviously intoxicated. The owner of the SUV also later told police that valet staff instructed them to leave the keys in their vehicle. Chieco’s mother is also named as a defendant in the suit because she is the administratrix of Chieco’s estate.
Anyone seriously injured as a result of someone else’s negligence is entitled to recover damages in a personal injury action. Such damages include past and future medical expenses, rehabilitation costs, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and other losses. In some cases, victims of intoxicated drivers may also be awarded punitive damages.
Under New Jersey’s Dram Shop liability statute, an establishment that over-served a visibly intoxicated patron can be held liable for injuries that the patron later caused. However, proving negligence on the part of the establishment can be difficult. How would a bartender know if a patron is drinking on an empty stomach and that he or she would later drive a car, or was already intoxicated before entering the establishment?
A person who drives under the influence of alcohol recklessly endangers the lives of others as well as their own. It is unlawful to drive a vehicle in a direction other than the designated area of the roadway, and it’s illegal to drive a stolen vehicle. Considering these facts, Ashley Sara Chieco appears to have violated the law, which may make it easier for Donna Corrar to prove negligence.