Blame the drunk, not the bar (Opinion)
Let's play some Tri-Bond. What do these three things have in common? Iceman. VHS tape. Personal responsibility.
You got it. Things that don't seem to exist anymore.
In the tragic TCNJ drunk driving case where Michael Sot lost his life, the family is now filing suit against Landmark Americana Tap & Grill along with individual bartenders. Dram shop law allows this in New Jersey. Indeed it appears David Lamar drank there until 1:30 in the morning and at the time of the crash tested at a 0.239, three times the legal limit. The lawsuit says Lamar consumed vast amounts of alcohol and was visibly intoxicated when he left. Legally this should be an easy lawsuit to win.
Morally though, are dram shop laws right? My opinion won't be a popular one especially in the case of a victim like Michael Sot who by all accounts came from a wonderful family and was an exemplary human being. The world hurts without him. Nothing diminishes that.
We have a legal drinking age for a reason. 21 is the legally set age at which you are tasked with being responsible enough to manage your own drinking. You're not a child anymore. You're to be held accountable for misdeeds. You're deemed to be old enough to make the right choices and old enough to bear the punishment of your bad choices. David Lamar is 22 years old. He had the legal right but also the legal responsibility to handle himself.
The personal responsibility should be entirely on him. This opinion is difficult to defend in this particular case since there does seem to be evidence that he was visibly drunk. However it is not illegal to be visibly drunk. It is illegal to be drunk and drive. There was talk that night of a friend at the bar who told Lamar he would give him a ride home. Lamar rejected it. That alone brings up questions. Did he reject the offer only once outside the bar? Did a bartender have the understanding this friend was going to be driving Lamar? At any point did Lamar outright lie to the bartenders and say he was not driving? How busy was the bar that night? This happened early on Sunday morning, meaning a Saturday night at a bar on the Ewing campus. Was it packed?
I can't imagine the confusion that reigns in a crowded tavern for a bartender trying to keep everything straight in their head. Someone orders two drinks at the bar to bring back to a table. Is the second one for a friend like you'd assume or is the patron drinking them both? Designated drivers are everywhere. Can a bartender be expected to fully trust or know who has one and who doesn't? Should they even have to?
What happened that night to Michael Sot and the other TCNJ students shouldn't happen to anyone. There is one person responsible for this. That person is David Lamar, and as far as I'm concerned he should receive the maximum sentence allowed by law. But in the civil arena, where we start assigning portions of blame to others it means we are taking some of the blame away from the drunk. I'm not willing to take an ounce of blame or responsibility away from David Lamar. Blame the drunk, not the bar.
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