This case presents a new question arising out of driving while intoxicated. Can a minor who was illegally sold alcoholic beverages by a liquor store recover the damages flowing from a motor vehicle conviction for driving while intoxicated (D.W.I.)? In other words, are statutorily imposed fines and sanctions, costs and other losses arising out of the conviction a proper element of damages recoverable against the store owner? This question is raised by defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.
For purposes of this motion, it is conceded that the plaintiff, Cindy Blair, was 17 years old on July 19, 1984. On that date, she purchased two 6 packs of beer from the defendant, Anik Liquors. After consuming the beer, plaintiff drove her automobile to Cedar Grove where she was arrested and charged with D.W.I. in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. She was subsequently convicted in Municipal Court.
Cindy Blair and her father brought suit against the defendant alleging negligence by the store for selling the beer to a minor in violation of N.J.S.A. 33:1-77. Plaintiffs seek recovery for monetary damages resulting from the D.W.I. conviction, which include the following: fine and court costs, fees for reinstatement of driver's license, fees for an alcohol rehabilitation course and an insurance surcharge fee of $1,000 per year for three years. In addition, plaintiffs claim incidental damages
arising out of the suspension of Cindy Blair's driving privileges for six months, including transportation expenses, emotional distress and diminution in the quality of life.
This motion can be decided only after a consideration and resolution of two conflicting public policies. First, the prohibition of the sale of alcoholic beverages to minors and the imposition of civil liability and sanctions against those violating that prohibition. Second, the prohibition of D.W.I. and the imposition of sanctions against those violating that prohibition.
It is settled law that a tavern which sells alcoholic beverages to a minor or intoxicated person whose intoxication causes injury to himself or a third person may be liable for those injuries. Rappaport v. Nichols, 31 N.J. 188 (1959); Soronen v. Olde Milford Inn, Inc., 46 N.J. 582 (1966). The Supreme Court in Rappaport recognized that:
[W]hen alcoholic beverages are sold by a tavern keeper to a minor or to an intoxicated person, the unreasonable risk of harm not only to the minor or the intoxicated person but also to members of the traveling public may readily be recognized and foreseen; this is particularly evident in current times when traveling by car to and from the tavern is so commonplace and accidents resulting from drinking are so frequent. [ Id. at 202.]
The court went on to observe that:
[R]ecognition of the plaintiff's claim will afford a fairer measure of justice to innocent third parties whose injuries are brought about by the unlawful and negligent sale of alcoholic beverages to minors and intoxicated persons, will strengthen and give greater force to the enlightened statutory and regulatory precautions against such sales and their frightening consequences, and will not place any unjustifiable burdens upon defendants who can always discharge their civil responsibilities by the exercise of due care. [ Id. at 205.]
It is equally well settled that the defense of contributory negligence of the bar's patron is not available to the tavern.
The public policy of the dram shop rule is to protect the intoxicated patron from his incapacity to protect himself or the public from foreseeable and unreasonable risk of harm . . . The need to protect an intoxicated patron from foreseeable harm to himself and others is self-evident because he lacks the capacity 'to exercise normal powers of judgment and prudence. He is a potential menace, not only to himself but to others' . . . He 'is a danger to himself and is in no