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9 posts from July 2011

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Strassel: The Senate’s Lawsuit Factory

In case you missed it, Kimberley A.  Strassel details trial lawyers’ attempts to use a controversial case to block mandatory arbitration clauses (The Senate’s Lawsuit Factory, The Wall Street Journal, 7/22/11).  Some how-to highlights:

1) Identify a law or regulation that prevents trial lawyers from cashing in.

2) Identify a "victim" of this law or regulation.

3) Get congressional allies to turn said victim into a cause célèbre.

4) Use ensuing moral outrage to get the law or regulation changed.

5) Buy a yacht.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Is suing the bar a new drunk driving trend?

It’s been fifteen months since we brought you the case of Voss v. Tranquilino.  You’ll recall that the plaintiff in this case, Ocean County resident Fredrick Voss, had a blood alcohol level nearly two and a half times the legal limit when he plowed his motorcycle into a car (“Drive drunk, hurt yourself, and blame someone else, 4/29/10).  He later sued Tiffany’s Restaurant, where he had consumed the alcohol, for his injuries.  The New Jersey Supreme Court agreed to hear the case to determine whether a 1997 Motor Vehicle law, which barred drunken drivers from collecting damages for their injuries, trumped an earlier law allowing those who suffer a loss (usually the innocent involved) to sue the licensed beverage server. 

In the year since, the Court actually ruled in favor of Voss, essentially giving a green light to a person charged with a DUI to sue a tavern owner for any injuries they sustain in the process of driving drunk (an illegal act, last I checked). 

It doesn’t stop there, either.  The parents of a young man who was killed after driving home from a popular Hamilton bar are now suing the establishment for wrongful death.  The loss of a child is always tragic, irrespective of the means.  But usually when “drunken driver” is mentioned in conjunction with “wrongful death,” it’s the family of an innocent motorist who is suing the drunk driver – not the family of the drunk driver suing the bar. 

What we’re seeing now, in the fifteen months since the New Jersey Supreme Court decided to hear the Voss case, is a disturbing push to use New Jersey’s civil justice system to compensate criminal behavior.  Assemblyman John Amodeo introduced legislation to overturn the Court’s decision in Voss v. Tranquilino¸ and prevent drunken drivers from suing others for injuries they cause themselves.  The bill number is A-4228. 

It’s unfortunate but necessary that the Legislature clarifies that New Jersey’s legal system should not reward illegal behavior.   

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Read NJLRA’s Letter-to-the-Editor in Saturday’s Star-Ledger

Warren Township whistle-blower suit exposes NJ's problematic legal climate

A jury recently awarded a $2.5 million judgment against Warren Township, population 16,000, over its handling of a report the council received about an intoxicated municipal judge on the bench (“The costly consequences of dismissing a whistle-blower,” July 18). With a total budget of $16 million, this is a surcharge residents will feel for years to come if it isn’t overturned on appeal.

Read more.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Have you voted yet?

Should drunk drivers be able to sue bartenders for serving them alcohol?  Vote here!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Trentonian: Wrongful death lawsuit filed against popular area Irish pub

Usually the wrongful death suit is filed against the drunk driver.  This time, it’s being filed on behalf of him. 

Wrongful death lawsuit filed against popular area Irish pub

Read Artemis Coughlan’s story in the Trentonian.

TRENTON - Muscle car enthusiast John Robert Gately spent the night of October 16, 2009 drinking at the popular Killarney’s Publick House Irish Pub in Hamilton, paid his bill and drove away.

Minutes later he slammed his car into a tree and utility pole on Youngs Road and died.

His parents, Kathleen Cousminer and father John M. Gately blame the people who served him the alcohol at the pub for not paying attention to his intoxicated condition that lead to the accident in a lawsuit filed in Mercer County Court.

Link to full story.  

Monday, July 18, 2011

Judgment 1/8th the size of a New Jersey town’s budget rendered

Even the plaintiff’s lawyer thinks it’s crazy. 

A state jury recently hit Warren Township, NJ (Somerset County) with a $2.5 million judgment over its handling of a municipal judge who came to work after consuming alcohol and prescription drugs. 

The judge, Richard Sasso, was reported to Warren’s town council by Michele D’Onofrio, who was Warren’s municipal prosecutor.  The Council chose not to take action, so D’Onofrio reported Sasso to the state Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Behavior.  He was barred from serving as a municipal court judge for life.  And she was dismissed.      

D’Onofrio sued and won.  The award breaks down as $552,000 in economic damages; $824,000 in punitive damages; and D’Onofrio’s attorney’s $1.2 million request for legal fees. 

“We would have settled for a fraction of that,” Bob Braun quotes D’Onofrio’s attorney, Nancy Erica Smith as saying. 

Municipal insurance doesn’t cover punitive damages, so for a town with a $16 million budget, the $2.5 million judgment is a hefty price for taxpayers to foot – especially when the Township had the opportunity to address it before it reached the Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee.    

The bad behavior of Sasso - who earned $200,000 a year by racking up part-time gigs in Warren, Bridgewater, Watchung, and Bound Brook – is a lesson on how taxpayers end up paying for the actions (or in this case, inactions) of others.  (See Braun’s piece in the Star-Ledger, “Warren Township melodrama highlights suburban mismanagement,” 7/18/11). 

Warren Township is appealing the decision.  Unless New Jersey acknowledges the need to reform its civil justice system, a single lawsuit – even a meritorious one – will have the power to influence a municipality’s budgetary priorities for years to come. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Session Recap

It’s been a quiet week for civil justice reform.  Unsurprising, since failed attempts to override some of the Governor’s vetoes, school funding, and speculation over which congressional district will be eliminated during redistricting have dominated New Jersey politics.

 To recap the 2010-2011 Session thus far, NJLRA supports the following bills:


Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Read NJLRA’s Op-Ed in today’s Star-Ledger

Legislation is necessary to limit suits in New Jersey

By Marcus Rayner

The New Jersey Supreme Court recently issued a decision allowing a motorcyclist to sue a restaurant that served him alcohol after he was injured when he crashed into a car while driving drunk.

The case stems from a 2006 incident in which 46-year-old Brick resident Fredrick Voss decided to drive home after drinking at Tiffany’s restaurant in Toms River. He pleaded guilty to a DUI charge after he rode the motorcycle through a red light and into a car. His blood alcohol level was nearly 21⁄2 times the legal limit.

Pleading guilty to a DUI charge might prompt most people to accept responsibility for endangering themselves and others. In a nod to how notions of personal responsibility — and our courts’ appetite for lawsuits — have changed, Voss took to court Tiffany’s restaurant and Kristoffe Tranquilino, the driver of the car he hit.


Tuesday, July 05, 2011

APP: Legislation Would Limit Suits by Drunken Drivers

Kathleen Hopkins wrote about A-4228 in the Asbury Park Press over the weekend.  This is the legislation that would prevent drunken drivers from suing restaurateurs who serve them alcohol from injuries they sustain while driving drunk (a la Voss v. Tranquilino). 

We’ll link to A-4228 once it’s available on the legislative website