IAlthough the merits of the underlying personal injury lawsuit are highly questionable, in a fascinating and important decision that was handed down last week, and published in today's New York Law Journal, one of New York's Appellate courts reversed a Westchester County trial court's decision, and held that the driver of a car that hits a drunk can in turn seek contribution from the bar that served the plaintiff too much alcohol, in violation of New York's Dram Shop Act, to compel the bar to pay their fair share of the blame for the auto accident.

In this case, O'Gara v. Alacci, the driver of a car knocked down the plaintiff, who had wandered into the middle of a parkway after leaving a bar. The plaintiff sued to recover damages for her personal injuries, and contended that the driver of the car handled his car negligently, and therefore bore some resposibility for the accident. The defendant driver, in turn, sued the bar that served alcohol to the plaintiff, asserting that the bar was also somewhat responsible for the accident, because they served alcohol to the plaintiff even after she was obviously drunk.

New York's Dram Shop Act states that anyone who has been injured, whether personally, or even monetarily, due to the intoxication state of another is entitled to recover in contribution from the one who unlawfully caused or added to the intoxication, i.e., after the person was already clearly intoxicated.

In issuing this ruling, the Appellate court rejected the trial court's holding that the bar's duty to abstain from serving alcohol to an already-drunk person runs only to that person; instead, the Appellate court held that this duty also runs to the general public, including the driver of the car that was involved in this pedestrian knockdown.

Jonathan Cooper
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Non-Compete, Trade Secret and School Negligence Lawyer
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