On appeal from the Superior Court, Law Division, Morris County.
Long, Muir, Jr., and Keefe. The opinion of the court was delivered by Keefe, J.s.c. (temporarily assigned).
[234 NJSuper Page 365] The principle issue to be decided on this appeal is whether the trial judge erred when he instructed the jury that a social host is not liable for the negligent acts of his minor guest who becomes intoxicated and causes injury to a third person, unless the jury finds that the social host provided alcoholic beverages
to the minor after a point in time when the minor was visibly intoxicated. We conclude that he did not err and affirm the judgment under review.*fn1a
The automobile accident giving rise to this litigation occurred in the early morning hours of August 21, 1985. Plaintiff Caroline Thomas was a passenger in a motor vehicle operated by defendant Susan Ufer. Ufer was issued a summons for driving while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage and pled guilty to that charge.
Prior to the accident, Thomas and Ufer were guests at the home of defendants Robert and Mildred Bergeron. Defendant Stephen Romeihs is the son of Mrs. Bergeron by a former marriage. Romeihs was the host of the social gathering on the evening in question while the Bergerons were away on vacation.
Ufer, Thomas and Romeihs worked together at an establishment known as the Publick House. As a result of various conversations between them and because Romeihs knew that Thomas had an interest in his friend, defendant Ronald Roberts, the trio made arrangements to meet Roberts at a party in Budd Lake. The four, who were all under the age of twenty-one, stayed at the party for a short period of time and then left to go to the Bergerons' home.
What occurred thereafter was hotly disputed. Roberts and Romeihs testified that the girls brought two six packs of beer, which they consumed during a game of "quarters." "Quarters" is a game wherein the participants attempt to flip a coin into a glass. The player who is successful in that effort then chooses another player to drink. Romeihs claimed that he served no beer to either Thomas or Ufer. After the game was over, Romeihs admitted that he made three "iced teas," one for
him, one for Roberts and a third one. He said that Ufer did not consume any iced tea, except perhaps a taste of Romeihs' drink. Romeihs also testified that Ufer only had one or two beers during the quarters game and did not continue drinking after the game. He said that he and Ufer watched a movie and talked until Ufer decided to leave, at which time he said Ufer "gave me no reason to think she was intoxicated."
Thomas' testimony was quite different. She said that Romeihs supplied the liquor and all of them drank "iced teas." She said that she became drunk, was staggering and had to be helped to the car where she fell asleep. Once intoxicated, she claimed not to be in a position to evaluate the intoxication of any of the other three people. Both Romeihs and Roberts agreed that Thomas was drunk when the girls left.
Ufer testified that she saw Romeihs get beer out of the refrigerator and that he supplied the alcoholic beverages for the drinking game. This included liquor which he obtained from a liquor cabinet. Ufer said that, when Romeihs won at "Quarters," he chose her to drink and that her glass was filled a few times. She also testified that she continued to drink after the game had concluded. She said that she became intoxicated towards the end of the night and that Romeihs continued to serve her drinks even after she felt the effects of the alcohol. She said that she was feeling "tipsy and giddy" while she was still in the house and was staggering.
Romeihs denied that anyone was picking on Ufer to drink because they knew she was driving. He claims that she stopped drinking on her own. Ufer admitted that she told the investigating police officer that she had only consumed three or four beers and maintained on cross-examination that she had told the truth to the police. The police officer testified that Ufer told him that she consumed three or four beers but said nothing about ...