Almost everyone knows about the tragedies of drunk driving. What a lot of people don’t know about, is the subject of civil liability that can attach to drunk driving. When people do think of this subject, they commonly think of the damages that a victim of drunk driving might be able to receive from the insurance company that insured a car driven by the drunk driver. That’s very common in Massachusetts car accident cases, and it’s an area that our firm specializes in.
But what a great many people don’t know about is the liability that can attach to the business or other source that provided or served the alcohol to the drunk driver. Categorically, these sources are usually restaurants, bars & taverns, or non-commercial hosts of parties, receptions or similar events. Civil liability law permits individuals who are injured as the result of negligent service of alcohol to bring suit against any of these categories of potential defendants. When the defendant is a business such as a bar or restaurant, the liability is usually based on “Dram Shop Laws“, which are specific state statutes that impose liability on liquor license holders or their promotional partners (known legally as “licensees.”) Such statutes are designed to encourage responsible alcohol service, and to provide a mechanism for third parties to file suit for injuries or deaths that result from a liquor law violation. When the defendant is not a business such as a restaurant or bar, but is instead a homeowner who threw a party or function at which alcohol was served, and injuries resulted allegedly due to over-serving someone alcohol, the liability is known as “social host liability.” This liability stems from specific laws stating that social hosts (i.e., non-commercial hosts of a party or function, etc.) who provide alcohol to their guests can be held legally responsible for injuries or damages that may result to someone if alcohol has been provided irresponsibly to an attendee of the function.
In addition, suits for damages resulting from the over-service of alcohol can also be based on common negligence. This body of law defines “negligence” as the failure to act in a manner that a reasonable person would act under the same or similar circumstances. These types of lawsuits can be brought by innocent victims who are injured by an intoxicated person, and they can also be brought by the intoxicated person himself. Juries can award monetary damages to compensate victims for the damages they suffered due to the intoxicated person, and sometimes, they can issue punitive damages to further punish the defendant when particularly egregious evidence is presented. Awards can range from a few thousand to millions of dollars.
A case like this recently settled in Massachusetts, after a 37-year-old husband and father was killed while riding in a vehicle driven by his co-worker and friend. Both men were intoxicated, with the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) in excess of twice the legal limit. How did they get that drunk? Because they had attended a fund-raising event earlier in the day, hosted by a bar that had negligently continued to serve both men alcohol even though both of them were visibly drunk. The two men later left the bar, and the accident that killed the victim occurred less than a mile away from the fund-raiser. In what the bar apparently considered “responsible”, event attendees had begun drinking early in the day, with two bartenders serving drinks. In addition, as part of the fundraiser, a vodka manufacturer held a promotion at the bar, where the manufacturer’s employees would purchase drinks at an upstairs bar, then provide event attendees with free “shots” downstairs. Sounds real responsible, doesn’t it?
The plaintiff in this case, who was the executor of the estate of the man who was killed in the car driven by his friend, claimed that the bar was understaffed and therefore unable to effectively monitor the alcohol consumption of the event attendees, especially due the “shot girls” who were handing out free drinks purchased upstairs at the restaurant. Restaurants that are licensed to serve alcohol are required to attend a restaurant industry-sponsored course known as TIPS, which trains bartenders and wait staff on the responsible service of alcohol, and of how to effectively spot an intoxicated patron. The defendants in this case claimed they adhered to TIPS standards, and were not negligent in their service of alcohol in this case. Notwithstanding, the defendants decided to settle the case, for $3.1 million. Most of the funds were used to provide structured settlements for the victim’s two young children.
These kinds of alcohol liability cases can be awful in the facts they present. I say this as a Dedham, Massachusetts personal injury attorney who has seen more injuries and deaths due to this kind of negligence than I care to see. My firm knows how to investigate and litigate these cases very effectively. If you know of someone who was injured in connection with negligent service of alcohol, contact us for a free consultation. The more that negligent providers of alcohol are held legally responsible for these kinds of cases, the less they’ll happen.