Can I Sue a Drunk Driver in New Jersey

Can I Sue a Drunk Driver in New Jersey?

Can I Sue a Drunk Driver in New Jersey?

Like most states, drunk driving accidents are a problem in New Jersey, causing many injuries and damages throughout the years. If you were in a car accident that involved a drunk driver, Reinartz Law Firm wants you to know that you’re not alone.

We understand that recovering from this accident is your priority, and we're here to help as much as possible. This blog will go over the topic of suing a drunk driver in New Jersey. Additionally, it will explain how a New Jersey car accident lawyer can help you with the process of filing a personal injury claim so you can get the compensation you need.

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Suing a Drunk Driver For Damages in New Jersey

If some irresponsible person decides to drive under the influence and injures you or wrecks your car, you have every right to take legal action against them.

In legal terms, drunk driving is what's called per se negligence. Basically, that means that by choosing to drive drunk, the person has already failed in their duty to drive responsibly. So, if they cause an accident, they're on the hook for the damages that come from it.

Understanding Personal Injury Claims Against Drunk Drivers

A personal injury claim is another legal term for suing someone for causing harm through negligence (like drunk driving). This claim is separate from any criminal charges the driver may face and focuses on seeking compensation for the damages you have suffered.

Unlike most accident cases, in a drunk driving accident case, you usually don't have to prove negligence in the traditional sense, thanks to negligence per se. Here’s a quick and easy breakdown:

  • Negligence: This requires proving the other driver owed you a duty of care (to drive safely), breached that duty by acting unreasonably (being drunk), and their breach caused your accident and injuries.
  • Negligence per se: With drunk driving, the law itself establishes the duty and the breach. Since driving drunk is illegal, it automatically breaches the duty of care owed to other drivers on the road.
Personal Injury Claims Against Drunk Drivers

So, you mainly need to prove:

  • The other driver was intoxicated.
  • Their intoxication caused the accident.
  • You suffered damages (injuries, lost wages, etc.).

However, in some situations, proving traditional negligence might still be needed if:

  • There is comparative fault: Some states have laws where the fault is shared between parties in an accident. Even with a drunk driver, if you were also speeding or not paying attention, you might need to show the drunk driver's negligence was the main cause (traditional negligence argument).
  • The drunk driver wasn't the only cause: In rare cases, another factor might have significantly contributed to the accident besides the drunk driver's intoxication. Here, traditional negligence arguments might assign fault.

Overall, negligence per se makes drunk driving cases easier for the injured party. You don't need to prove the driver acted unreasonably, just that they were drunk and it caused the accident. But, depending on the specifics and your state's laws, you might use traditional negligence arguments in some situations.

New Jersey is a Comparative Fault State

Under New Jersey's modified comparative negligence rule, you can still pursue compensation even if you were partially at fault for the accident.

Here's a simplified breakdown of how comparative fault works in New Jersey:

  • The judge or jury assigns a percentage of fault to everyone involved in the accident.
  • If you are less than 50% at fault, you can still recover damages.
  • Your damage award will decrease by your percentage of fault.

Dram Shop Liability in New Jersey

In addition to suing the drunk driver directly, New Jersey's dram shop law allows you to bring a claim against a business or establishment that over-served alcohol to the intoxicated individual who caused your accident.

This law recognizes that bars, restaurants, and other establishments are required to serve alcohol responsibly and can be held liable for over-serving.

To pursue a dram shop claim, you must prove that:

  1. The establishment served alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person, or
  2. The establishment served alcohol to someone under the age of 21, knowing or having reason to know that the individual was underage.

If successful, a dram shop claim can provide an additional source of compensation for your damages, as the establishment's insurance policy may cover some or all of your losses.

Does all of this sound complicated and stressful? That’s because it is. However, this is where a car accident lawyer proves invaluable. They can take over this part of your claim as well as the entire legal process so you can focus on getting better.

The Role of a New Jersey Car Accident Lawyer

You’ve probably realized by now that pursuing a claim against a drunk driver or a dram shop can be a challenging process. This is why you need an experienced lawyer who can guide you through these legal processes as well as fight for your rights.

A knowledgeable New Jersey car crash attorney can:

  • Investigate the accident and gather evidence to support your claim
  • Identify all potential sources of compensation, including the drunk driver's insurance policy and any applicable dram shop liability
  • Calculate the full extent of your damages, including future medical expenses and lost earning capacity
  • Negotiate with insurance companies and the at-fault parties to seek a fair settlement
  • Represent you in court if a trial becomes necessary

Even better, many personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis, which means that you will not have to pay any upfront legal costs, and the lawyer will only receive a percentage of your awarded compensation if your case is successful.

Damages You May Recover in a Drunk Driving Accident Claim

Pursuing a personal injury claim against a drunk driver can help accident survivors and their families obtain the compensation they need to cope with these challenges and move forward with their lives.

While no amount of money can undo the harm caused by a drunk driving accident, it can provide the resources necessary for recovery and rebuilding.

Here's a breakdown of the damages you may recover in a drunk driving accident claim in New Jersey, along with some average cost figures to give you a general idea.

Medical Expenses:

Medical Expenses
  • Emergency room visit: $1,500 - $3,000
  • Hospital stay (average per day): $2,000 - $5,000
  • Surgery: $10,000 - $75,000+ (depending on complexity)
  • Rehabilitation: $2,000 - $10,000+ (per month)
  • Ongoing medical care: Varies depending on the injury (e.g., physical therapy: $100 - $200 per session)

Lost Wages:

  • Average weekly wages in New Jersey: $1,100: depending on your source, wages can vary by occupation and location

Pain and Suffering:

  • Pain and suffering damages are highly variable and depend on the severity of your injuries and the impact on your life. There's no set formula, but settlements can range from tens of thousands of dollars to millions in severe cases.

Property Damage:

  • The average cost to repair a car is $3,000 (depending on the severity of the damage, your car's value, etc.)

Important Note: The actual cost of your damages will vary depending on the specifics of your case. This is why you need to discuss your situation with a personal injury lawyer.

New Jersey's Drunk Driving Laws and Penalties: What You Need to Know

It’s worth noting that New Jersey has some of the strictest drunk driving laws in the country.

A person is considered to be driving under the influence (DUI) if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08% or higher, or if they are under the influence of any intoxicating substance that impairs their ability to operate a vehicle safely.

The penalties for drunk driving in New Jersey depend on various factors, including the driver's BAC level, whether they have prior DUI convictions, and whether the incident resulted in injuries or fatalities.

First-time offenders with a BAC between 0.08% and 0.10% may face penalties such as:

  1. Fines ranging from $250 to $400
  2. Up to 30 days in jail
  3. License suspension for three months
  4. Mandatory participation in an Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC) program

Penalties become more severe for higher BAC levels, repeat offenders, and cases involving injuries or fatalities. In addition to criminal penalties, drunk drivers may also face administrative consequences, such as license revocation and the installation of an ignition interlock device on their vehicle.

Important Note:

A drunk driver facing criminal charges does not prevent you from pursuing a personal injury claim against them. Criminal proceedings and civil lawsuits are separate matters, and the outcome of one does not necessarily affect the other.

Your lawyer can help you navigate the legal process and pursue your claim independently of any criminal proceedings.

New Jersey Statute of Limitations

In New Jersey, the statute of limitations for most personal injury claims is two years from the accident. This means that you must file your lawsuit within two years, or you may lose your right to seek compensation.

Richard Reinartz, New Jersey Car Accident Attorney
Richard Reinartz, New Jersey Car Accident Lawyer

Get Help Today at The Reinartz Law Firm

The experienced personal injury lawyers at The Reinartz Law Firm pursue compensation for people who were injured by drunk drivers. Let us help you so that you can move forward with your life.

All of the firm's injury cases are taken on a contingency basis, meaning you pay nothing until we win your case. For help with your case, contact us today by calling (201) 289-8614 or by connecting with us online for more information.


Q1. What if the drunk driver does not have insurance?

If the drunk driver does not have insurance or has insufficient coverage, you may still be able to pursue compensation through your own uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage or by filing a lawsuit directly against the driver. Your lawyer can help you explore all available options.

Q2. Can I sue a drunk driver if I was a passenger in their vehicle?

Yes, even if you were a passenger in the drunk driver's vehicle, you can still pursue a personal injury claim against them. The driver had a duty of care to operate the vehicle safely, and by driving under the influence, they breached that duty, making them liable for your injuries.

Q3. What should I do if I am involved in a drunk driving accident?

If you are involved in a drunk driving accident, your first priority should be to seek medical attention for any injuries. You should also contact law enforcement to report the accident and request that they come to the scene.

If possible, gather evidence such as photos of the accident scene, witness contact information, and the drunk driver's insurance and contact details. Finally, consult a personal injury lawyer to discuss your legal options and begin the process of pursuing compensation.