Time to take bartenders off the hook for drunk driving deaths (Opinion)
Can a bartender who has less than a minute in a crowded bar to take an order be expected to assess the intoxication level (or lack thereof) of any given patron? I don’t think so. Yet legally, that’s what NJ law asks them to do every single night. Once again, because of a misguided NJ law, a bar is being blamed for serving too much alcohol to a drunk. The family of a New Jersey woman killed when her boyfriend crashed while driving drunk more than four years ago raked in $1.6 million from a lawsuit against Connolly Station, a now-defunct Belmar bar, where he drank prior to the crash.
Tiffany Soto, 26, of Howell, died after she and Edwin Martinez left Connolly Station on April 20, 2014. The suit alleged that bartenders there continued to serve Martinez after he was “visibly intoxicated.” Intoxication might be visible. But it isn’t always. I know people who look drunk when they’re not, and vice versa.
If we can assume that a bartender in a dark crowded bar can make a judgment call like this in a minute or two, then doesn’t it follow that the girlfriend who leaves with said patron would be just as good, if not better a judge of a person’s drunkenness? Doesn’t the girlfriend have some or MOST of the culpability in her own death? AFTER ALL, we can’t really blame the drunk. He presumably was too drunk to know what he was doing.
What happened to “friends don’t let friends drive drunk”? There was only one person who could have saved Tiffany Soto’s life and that was Tiffany herself. Supposedly, Martinez shoved her over from the driver's seat and then climbed in to take the wheel. Incidentally, she couldn’t have been too frightened to drive with him because she wasn’t wearing a seat belt. There’s no indication that she tried to stop him or that she didn’t have time to get out.
In any case, even if we assign blame to the drunk, we need to repeal these dumb laws that put the onus on hapless bartenders to save idiots from making bad decisions. If I lined up 20 random people, some pretending they’re drunk when they’re not, and some pretending they’re not drunk when they are, would YOU trust yourself to be right every time? Or even most of the time? And would a lot of your correct answers be 50/50 guesses? It’s nearly impossible for a bartender to quantify “drunkenness.” Let’s eliminate this bad law and bring and allow personal responsibility to be re-entered into the lexicon.
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