If You Are Convicted of a DUI/DWI You Cannot Bring a Claim For Personal Injury as a Result of an Accident
Docket No.: A-3925-21
Decided March 6, 2023
Submitted by New Jersey Personal Injury Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In a recent published decision, the Appellate Division affirmed the denial of defendant’s motion for summary judgment of plaintiff’s personal injury complaint stemming from a motor vehicle accident in which plaintiff admitted to being drunk prior to the crash.
In Castano v. Augustine, plaintiff was driving his motorcycle southbound in the left lane of Tonnelle Avenue in Jersey City. He had been to three different bars since approximately 2:00 p.m. the day before, drinking some beers or liquor at all three taverns. Plaintiff claimed that a tractor-trailer truck owned by NFI Interactive Logistics, LLC, and driven by its employee, Wendell Augustine, exited a convenience store parking lot onto Tonnelle Avenue. As Augustine negotiated the turn, the truck crossed into plaintiff’s lane of travel. Plaintiff “brought [his] bike down” onto the roadway to avoid a collision, but he struck the truck’s bumper and the wall dividing the southbound and northbound lanes of Tonnelle Avenue.
During his deposition, plaintiff sometimes admitted being “drunk” at the time of the accident; at other times he admitted having alcohol in his system but said he was not “drunk.” He detailed the drinks that he had that day at three different bars until approximately twenty minutes before the crash. Plaintiff also admitted that he was speeding at the time of the crash.
Blood was drawn from plaintiff at the Jersey City Medical Center where he was treated for his injuries. Defendants’ expert extrapolated from the alcohol level in the blood taken at the hospital that plaintiff had a BAC of .159 to .162 at the time of the accident, well in excess of the legal limit of .08.
Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4.5(b), plaintiff was legally intoxicated at the time of the accident and therefore could not, as a matter of law, pursue a negligence claim for damages. The Law Division judge reasoned that although “public policy should result in summary judgment being granted [to defendants] in light of the motion record, under a strict construction of the law” the motion had to be denied. Finding that “genuine issues of material fact exist[ed],” the judge reasoned defendants were not entitled to summary judgment.
Defendants appealed, arguing the evidence and defendant’s admittance of consuming alcohol and being drunk prior to the accident requires the dismissal of the claim. The Appellate Division affirmed the denial of the motion for summary judgment, finding that it was required for plaintiff to be convicted of a Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) offense for him to be barred by bringing the personal injury action. Having not done so, the case was to proceed to trial.
This case is important to understand N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4.5(b) provides:
Any person who is convicted of, or pleads guilty to, operating a motor vehicle in violation of [N.J.S.A.] 39:4-50, [N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.4a], or a similar statute from any other jurisdiction, in connection with an accident, shall have no cause of action for recovery of economic or noneconomic loss sustained as a result of the accident. [(Emphasis added).]
Essentially, if you are convicted of a DUI/DWI you cannot bring a claim for personal injury as a result of an accident. However, as provided above, evidence of drinking alcohol and being drunk, without a conviction, is not enough to dismiss the claim under the statute. It will not be the jury’s job to discern how much of plaintiff’s intoxication – if at all – caused the crash.
If you or someone you know has been injured in a car accident, truck crash, or slip and fall, call the experienced personal injury attorneys at Hark & Hark today. For personal injury matters, no money is paid up front, and fees are only collected if a recovery is made. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any county in New Jersey Atlantic County, Bergen County, Burlington County, Camden County, Cape May County, Cumberland County, Essex County, Gloucester County, Hudson County, Hunterdon County, Mercer County, Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Morris County, Ocean County, Passaic County, Salem County, Somerset County, Sussex County, Union County, and Warren County and any town including Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Elizabeth, Edison, Woodbridge, Lakewood, Toms River, Hamilton, Trenton, Clifton, Camden, Brick, Cherry Hill, Passaic, Middletown, Union City, Old Bridge, Gloucester Township, East Orange, Bayonne, Franklin Township, North Bergen, Vineland, and Union.