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Diaz v. Reynoso

New Jersey Appellate Division

June 1, 2021

This interlocutory appeal resulted from a dismissal order and raised novel issues of legal duty and tort liability in a drunk driving context. The issues concerned whether a volunteer who assures police officers at a roadside stop of an apparently inebriated driver that he will take the driver and his car safely to a residence—but thereafter returns the car to the driver before reaching that destination—can be civilly liable as a joint tortfeasor if the driver then collides with and injures another motorist. The New Jersey Appellate Division reversed the trial court’s dismissal order. The Appellate Division held that a volunteer who fails to discharge his commitment to the police in such a situation and who willingly allows a visibly intoxicated motorist to resume driving could bear a portion of the civil liability for an ensuing motor vehicle accident caused by that drunk driver. The presence of such a legal duty will hinge upon whether the volunteer is advised by the police, or objectively has reason to know from the surrounding circumstances, that their promise is an important obligation and that failing to carry it out could result in civil financial consequences.

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