New Jersey Bar Agrees to Half-Million Dollar Fine after Overserved Patron’s Fatal Accident

While many would claim that this all began on an August day in 2013, it is likely that the seeds of employee behavior that contributed to the tragic death of Ashley Chieco and the severe injuries to motorist Dana Corrar were planted much earlier. As reported by and other media sources, Ms. Chieco purchased her first drink at 11:07 a.m. and began drinking at Point Pleasant beach before noon. She did not eat the entire day. Throughout the course of the day bartenders at Martel’s beachside bar served Ms. Chieco a number of vodka-based mixed drinks.

At around 5 p.m., Ms. Chieco left the bar and headed out to the parking lot. While the parking lot was staffed, vehicles were not secured. At the attendant’s request, patrons had left vehicles with keys in the ignition. However these vehicles were either not being closely supervised or they were unsupervised. In her state, Ms. Chieco managed to climb into an SUV that had a similar appearance to to hers, despite not driving to the beach that day, and she drove away.

Ms. Chieco drove more than 30 miles north in the stolen SUV. As she traveled north, 9-1-1 emergency calls poured in from concerned motorists. 9 witnesses called to report an erratic driver traveling on Route 18. Then, at about 6 p.m., while driving the wrong way down the highway, Chieco’s SUV struck Ms. Corrar’s vehicle head-on. Ms. Chieco died shortly after the accident. Ms. Corrar suffered catastrophic injuries that have required at least 7 surgeries.

Failures to adhere to the state liquor laws can result not only in tragic accidents that take their toll in lost lives and opportunities, they can also jeopardize the continued existence of a restaurant, bar or other business. The Jayson Law Group can provide businesses that serve alcohol with reliable legal advice regarding New Jersey’s liquor laws so that situations like these can be prevented from reoccurring.

Liquor licenses can be suspended indefinitely

Martel’s agreed to a settlement with the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control regarding the events at the bar that caused the death and serious injuries. Under terms of the consent order the bar will face a number of consequences including:

  • A $500,000 fine – the fine will be paid in two installments of $250,000. The first installment must be paid by August 15, 2015 and the second installment must be paid by August 15, 2016.
  • License suspension – The bar will face a 30-day liquor license suspension that will run from September 28, 2015 to October 28, 2015
  • Potential indefinite suspension – If the Division of Alcohol Control can make a prima facie showing of another violation of NJAC 13:2-23.1(b) that results in death or serious bodily injury within 18 months of the final payment, the license to serve liquor will be indefinitely suspended. Furthermore, the organization would be require to divest itself from the license within 2 years of the second incident.
  • Staff training – The business is required to provide training to all employees who are involved in the service of alcohol. The training will be provided at the establishment’s expense.
  • Waiver of rights — The bar also agreed to waive all rights to future appeals and hearings.

Under NJAC 13:2-23.1(b) governs the consequences when a bar or licensed facility serves a visibly intoxicated individual. Recommended penalties become more strict with each subsequent violation. While an initial violation is recommended to be punished by a 14 day suspension, penalties increase to a 30 day suspension followed by a 45 day suspension for subsequent violations. A fourth violation can result in the revocation of the license.

Not all are on-board with the settlement and they are seeking more severe punishment

Many, including the victim of the accident, have attacked the settlement. The victim was quoted by asking and stating, “Why didn’t they just (suspend) it in the summertime? It sounds political to me.” The mayor of Point Pleasant Beach, who opposed the renewal of Martel’s liquor license, went on record with stating that, “This resolution is an absolute disgrace. It is an embarrassment. What  is the price of the dead girl? The fine is nothing more than a slap on the wrist.”

While the fine may or may amount to, “slap on the wrist,” it is not the only liability Martel’s will face due to this incident. Through her attorney, Ms. Corrar has filed a civil suit against Marte’s that alleges that Ms. Chieco was visibly intoxicated at Martel’s and employees failed to address the situation. This breached the duty owed by the bar to Ms. Corrar and the public by creating an unreasonable and foreseeable risk of harm. While this civil suit does not yet specific damages, it would almost undoubtedly seek compensation for medical expenses, lost wages and for other recoverable damages caused by the accident. The suit also seeks punitive damages – the type of damages that are often awarded when a court wants send a message that a certain behavior or behaviors are not acceptable.

Rely on the Jayson Group for Business Regulatory Guidance

The Jayson Law Group is dedicated to providing on-point legal advice for small businesses and start-ups in New Jersey. We can provide guidance regarding complying with state laws or regulations, assistance with forming a business entity, and all legal aspects of starting or running a business. To schedule a free and confidential initial consultation, call  908-768-3633 or contact us online.


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