Man Sues Bars That Served Him Drinks Before Motorcycle Crash

Man Sues Bars That Served Him Drinks Before Motorcycle Crash

By Britni de la Cretaz 05/08/17

According to the lawsuit, servers at the bars "should have" recognized that the man was intoxicated and could cause harm to himself or others. 

Image: 
bartender pouring a drink on the bar counter.

A New Jersey man is suing two establishments for serving him alcohol in the hours before he crashed his motorcycle, injuring himself. Antonio Salomon-Merlino, 28, has reportedly undergone several major surgeries to repair the damage done to his leg as a result of the accident, and has been unable to work or ride a motorcycle since the incident.

According to NJ.com, Salomon-Merlino was drinking tequila and pisco sours at Oh! Calamares in Kearny, after which he rode his motorcycle to Hector's Sports Bar in Clifton. When he left Hector’s, he was headed to see a friend around 3:15 in the morning when he crashed his bike. "He was definitely intoxicated at the time of the accident," said Natalie A. Zammitti Shaw, Salomon-Merlino’s attorney.

Salomon-Merlino was charged with drunken driving, but the charge was dismissed because his blood-alcohol level was below the legal 0.08% limit. Zammitti Shaw claims that is because five hours passed between the time of the accident and when Salomon-Merlino was given a blood or breath test.

In 2011, New Jersey’s Supreme Court ruled that defendants had the right to sue establishments that served them alcoholic beverages prior to a motor vehicle crash. In 2006, Frederick Voss crashed his motorcycle and was found to have a blood-alcohol level of .196%—nearly two and a half times the legal limit. He pled guilty to drunk driving, but sued the restaurant Tiffany's, claiming negligence in their continuing to serve him alcohol.

But Tiffany's countered that the suit wasn’t valid due to a state law which says that people convicted of DWI cannot sue. However, the court ruled that the law applies to insurance claims, not people who serve drinks.

The laws that allow drunk drivers who cause accidents to sue establishments that serve them booze exist in every state, and they are called “dram shop laws.” In the case of Salomon-Merlino, his is a “first-party” dram shop case, which means that the person who was injured in the accident is the person who was served the alcoholic drinks. Not all states have first-party dram shop laws, but New Jersey does. 

In Florida, a dram shop suit was recently filed after 26-year-old Max Holloway lost his life after crashing his car. Attorney Brian Baggot told the Tampa Bay Times that cases like these are "a significant uphill battle."

In Massachusetts, Katrina McCarty has sued the establishment that served the drunk driver that hit her and left her severely injured; McCarty was hit while standing outside her own crashed vehicle, which she had been driving with a blood-alcohol level twice the legal limit, and had been drinking at the same restaurant as the driver who hit her.

Salomon-Merlino’s suit states that servers at both Oh! Calamares and Hector's Sports Bar "knew or should have known that (Salomon-Merlino) was visibly intoxicated" and that "he could or would cause bodily injury to himself or others.”

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.

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