On April 29, 2010 the New Jersey Appellate Division decided in the case of Voss v. Tranquilino, that a guilty plea or conviction at trial for a DWI does not bar the intoxicated driver from filing a dram shop suit against the tavern that served him execssive intoxicating liquor. The court addressed the conflict between a statutory bar for a person convicted of DWI from suing for pain and suffering and economic damages and New Jersey’s Dram Shop statute which allows individuals who have been injured as a result of patrons served too much alcohol and then caused Motor vehicle accidents.
The court found that although the New Jersey insurance statute provides that a driver of a motor vehicle who is convicted of or pleads guilty a DWI 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.” The issue of the appeal is whether this statutory provision bars a dram shop claim by an intoxicated motorist against a liquor licensee that allegedly served him alcoholic beverages when he was visibly intoxicated prior to the motor vehicle accident. Although a literal reading of the statute suggests that all claims are barred, we reach a contrary conclusion. We hold that N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4.5(b) does not bar a dram shop claim because (1) the purpose of the statute is to reduce automobile insurance premiums and its scope should be limited accordingly to losses that are subject to coverage under Title 39; (2) an interpretation barring dram shop claims would unjustifiably constitute repeal by implication of a portion of the New Jersey Licensed Alcoholic Beverage Server Fair Liability Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:22A-1 to -7, commonly referred to as the “Dram Shop Act”; and (3) immunizing liquor licensees from liability in such circumstances would be inimical to the policy of this State of curbing drunk driving.”