Ansa Assuncao Prevails in Summary Judgment Decision Expanding Bar Against Lawsuits Brought by Drunk Drivers

In a decision expanding New Jersey’s statutory bar against civil actions brought by drunk drivers, the Superior Court granted summary judgment in favor of United Parcel Service, Inc. and its driver.  The Court held that a statute preventing individuals convicted  of driving while intoxicated (DWI) from recovering in lawsuits also applied to a plaintiff who had not been charged with DWI but whose blood alcohol content was over the legal limit.

The case involved a motor vehicle accident in which Plaintiff allegedly sustained a traumatic brain injury and other injuries.  Following the accident, a blood draw at the hospital revealed the presence of alcohol.  Plaintiff was not charged with DWI.  However, his retained toxicology expert conceded that Plaintiff’s blood alcohol content at the time of the accident was between .11% and .21% (exceeding the .08% legal limit).

Plaintiff filed a civil action in the New Jersey Superior Court, Bergen County.  The UPS defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that, although the plain language of N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4.5(b) states that a person who is “convicted of, or pleads guilty to,” DWI or refuses a breath test “shall have no cause of action,” this statute should also bar Plaintiff’s lawsuit.  The UPS defendants reasoned that the statute applies because its underlying purpose is to deter drunk driving and reduce lawsuits.  The defense further asserted that to hold otherwise and allow Plaintiff to proceed because there was no conviction or guilty plea (as required by the literal language of the statute) would produce the kind of result that the New Jersey Supreme Court has directed courts to avoid: one that is “manifestly absurd” and “contrary to public policy.”

The Court agreed, dismissing the case with prejudice.  Judge Gregg A. Padavano, J.S.C. found that “no rational fact finder could determine that Plaintiff was not intoxicated at the time of the Accident” and concluded that “permitting Plaintiff’s complaint under purely a literal reading of N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4.5(b) produces a manifestly absurd result and would be against the firmly and long established public policy of dissuading or preventing drunk driving.”

The motion was prepared by Ansa Assuncao attorneys Michael O’Neill, Michael Bonner and Arthur Fergenson.

A copy of the April 13, 2018 decision can be found here.

Arthur F. Fergenson is a Senior Counsel in our Maryland office.