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Monday, March 05, 2012

Unnamed Trenton Bar is the latest New Jersey establishment to be sued for a patron’s intoxication

Whether you live or work in the Trenton area (or just read about it on occasion), you may remember the unfortunate death of a man who had fallen into a snow bank at the intersection of South Warren and West Front streets last winter. 

Quirino Azcona, a popular deliveryman whom friends called “Cabrera,” stopped at an unnamed bar after his shift ended at Supreme Food in the City’s South Ward in late January 2011.  Fresh snow lined the path he took to his residence in the West Ward.  Surveillance footage suggests that he was heavily intoxicated, stumbling several times before he fell into a snow bank and didn’t get up.  He laid there for an unspecified period of time, hidden from sight by the snow, before he was tragically caught in a city plow and gruesomely killed.

In addition to the City, Azcona’s estranged wife and children have decided to sue the bar. 

"The bar served him to the point where he was intoxicated," his lawyer said in a statement to the Times of Trenton.  "The poor guy got drunk, went out into the snow and got run over by a snowplow.”

Yes, the poor guy got drunk after drinking alcohol.  What reasonable adult could anticipate such a consequence?

The weather conditions certainly were a key contributor to Azcona’s accident, but I suppose the bar is a defendant when Mother Nature is unavailable.   We’ve seen similar situations before. 

We’ve all been warned about the consequences of drinking and driving (really, the consequences of drinking and doing just about anything), which is why most bar patrons take precautions when consuming alcohol.  But as the suing-the-bar-where-you-voluntarily-drank-alcohol-trend continues, the courts are allowing the intoxicated and their kin to shift responsibility to others rather than hold them responsible for their actions (see Voss vs. Tranquilino, Killarney’s in Hamilton, et. all). 

We probably won’t ever know if the unnamed bar in question is the only establishment Azcona patronized on the night of his death, or whether things may have turned out differently if he had been walking with a friend instead of alone.  But we can use his untimely death as an opportunity to remind the public to take weather conditions into account when enjoying a night out, even when planning to walk.  And, hopefully, keep others from meeting a similar fate.  This isn’t something that a lawsuit can do. 

The plaintiffs’ attorneys will argue that personal responsibility is too much of a buzz kill for patrons, so the bar needs to supervise the adults in their presence.  But judging by the comments associated with the Times of Trenton’s story, it seems that most of us agree that having a bar play nanny to its patrons is a greater buzz bill.   

Azcona certainly isn’t the first person to pass out in a drunken stupor after leaving a bar.  But if the suing-the-bar-where-you-voluntarily-drank-alcohol-trend continues in New Jersey, nightlife in the Garden State may undergo an involuntary rehab.

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