Man got drunk at a town beer tent, then stole my truck and totaled it...

by Mark
(Washington, NJ)

A man got drunk at a town sponsored beer tent, then stole my truck and totaled it. I'm responsible for the towing and impound fees, totaling $1000. I only had liability on the truck so it is a total loss. His driver's license is revoked in New Jersey. He was carrying a Florida driver's license at the time, but the police can't tell me if it is valid.

He doesn't own a car and was living with his sister at the time. The police informed me that he can sue me for his injuries because he was operating my vehicle even though he stole it. Is that true? How can I recoup what I have lost? Can I sue the town because he was far above the legal limit, and was drinking at a town sponsored event? Thanks for any direction you can give.

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "Man got drunk at a town beer tent, then stole my truck and totaled it...":

Mark (Washington, NJ):

The police are wrong. Unless you specifically gave the driver consent to drive your truck, you should not be liable. An injured person whose injuries were caused to himself or herself during the commission of a crime cannot claim compensation from the owner of a car he or she stole.

Many states have "dram shop" laws. A dram shop law provides parties with civil remedies when they are injured as a direct result of being overserved alcohol at a bar, restaurant, or in some cases, a private home.

However, New Jersey is unfortunately not one of the states which has a dram shop law. In 2009 The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled licensed servers of alcohol are not subject to a dram shop doctrine.

Moreover, the town is a governmental agency and as such is protected by a legal doctrine known as sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity means a private party cannot sue a governmental entity. This is true unless the entity decides to permit the injured party to file a claim. Doing so is referred to as a government tort claim.

To pursue the claim you will have to file a "Notice of Claim" with Washington Township. Contact the Township and tell them you want to file a Notice of Claim for damage caused to your truck as a result of their overserving alcohol.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Judge Calisi

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