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MA Social Host Liability

In Massachusetts and other states, Social Host liability is a hot button issue that courts are attempting to resolve. Social host Liability includes not only Liability for house parties, cookouts, family functions, employee holiday parties but includes Fraternity Parties, Keg Parties as well as liability for friends and / or boyfriends, girlfriends participating in friends getting drunk and driving.

Many Social Host Liability cases involve Drunk Driving death resulting (OUI/ DWI/ DUI), fatal accidents (wrongful Death), reckless driving, hit and run accidents and car crashes. Sadly many of these Motor Vehicle Accidents involve large trucks, bicycles, motorcycles or even innocent pedestrians.

If you were injured in a MA Auto Accident make sure you contact a Personal Injury Attorney in Massachusetts.

Bars and Restaurants and Commercial vendors are liable if they serve someone negligently

We all know that A commercial vendor of alcoholic beverages may be liable to a third person who is injured in a motor vehicle accident negligently caused by a customer if the vendor sold alcohol to someone the vendor knew or reasonably should have known was intoxicated. McGuiggan v. New England Tel. & Tel. Co., 398 Mass. 152 , 156 (1986). Cimino v. Milford Keg, Inc., 385 Mass. 323, 327 (1982).

Seminal Social Host Liability Case

The seminal case in Mass. Concerning Liability of a host to a guest who consumes alcoholic beverages is McGuiggan v. New England Telephone and Telegraph Company. This is a 1986 decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial court.

Facts of McGuiggan Case

In McGuiggan, parents hosted a graduation party for their son who was 18 years old. Most of the people present at the get together were older than 18 years old. There were 4 teenagers at the party and everyone else was in their 30’s. “Several people acted as bartender serving alcoholic beverages provided by the McGuiggans’ at a bar in the cellar playroom, and guests also served themselves.” Id. The Teen 18 year old negligent delinquent who caused the accident admitted having 4-5 beers and believed he plead guilty to drunk driving charges.

The Accident occurred in Peabody MA after leaving the party. The victim “…became sick to his stomach and leaned his head and upper body out of a window of the vehicle. Daniel’s head apparently struck a cement post which the defendant telephone company maintained inside the curb to mark the location of an underground conduit. Daniel died at a local hospital about four hours later.”

Decision of MA Court in McGuiggan

The MA Supreme Judicial Court ruled that: “a social host’s liability to a person injured by an intoxicated guest’s negligent operation of a motor vehicle where a social host who knew or should have known that his guest was drunk, nevertheless gave him or permitted him to take an alcoholic drink and thereafter, because of his intoxication, the guest negligently operated a motor vehicle causing the third person’s injury. In deciding whether the social host exercised ordinary prudence in such circumstances, a relevant consideration will be whether the social host knew or reasonably should have known that the intoxicated guest might presently operate a motor vehicle. . .” McGuiggan v. New England Telephone and Telegraph Company, 398 Mass. 152, 496 N.E.2d 141 (1986) http://people.umass.edu/leg450/Cases%20and%20statutes/Mcguiggan.htm

Liability of Friends at Commercial establishments such as bars

Liability for beer, wine or hard liquor consumption is not only reserved for home owners but may apply to patrons of a bar, restaurant, club, tavern or pub who purchase a beer for a guest or patron of that establishment. SEE Pollard v Powers (Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Bristol.) http://caselaw.findlaw.com/ma-court-of-appeals/1124654.html

Is buying a buddy a beer enough?

However, merely buying a round of shots or a glass of wine is not enough to impose liabilityin these circumstances. Applying “existing social values and customs,….it cannot reasonably be argued that the common practice of patronizing eating and drinking establishments with companions, each participant paying a fair share of the charges, imposes social host liability on each member of the group in the event one individual visibly drinks to excess and causes damage afterward”

DUBE v. LANPHEAR , Appeals Court of Massachusetts,Essex. http://caselaw.findlaw.com/ma-court-of-appeals/1363452.html

FACTS of DUBE Case

In the Dube case, Paul Dube sustained very serious injuries as a result of a car accident when his motor vehicle was hit by a wrong way drunk driver on the highway route 95. The offending driver was Ravindra Bhoge. Mr Dube “…subsequently commenced an action against Bhoge’s three companions, alleging that they were social hosts and that, knowing that Bhoge was intoxicated and intended to drive home, they  negligently permitted him to continue to drink and were consequently liable for the damages that he caused.” Id

Decision in DUBE

The Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Essex. determined that the friends of Mr. Bhoge owed no duty of care to the injured victim and affirmed the lower court ruling.

The Dube Court reasoned that “These realities are reflected in the requirement that a defendant be in control of the liquor supply before there can be social host liability. No such control was present in this case.   A true host in a practical sense owns or provides the liquor served to guests, and consequently is in a position to cut off that supply in the event that he observes that a guest is becoming intoxicated. Failure to do so subjects such a host to liability for foreseeable damages related to the guest’s drinking. Here, no evidence suggests that the defendants could have interrupted the liquor supply to Bhoge merely by announcing that they would not continue to pay for it. Indeed, we need look no further than the fact that Bhoge continued to drink with Goodwin after Lanphear had paid the bill.”

Mosko v Raytheon

In Mosko v Raytheon, the Massachusetts Court determined that an employer acting as a host is treated the same Way as far as the standard of care is concerned as a social host. In that case “employees attending the Christmas party purchased their own drinks from a cash bar staffed by the employees of Peter C’s. Raytheon did not furnish or pay for the alcohol consumed by its employees, and there is nothing to show that Raytheon had any control over the manner in which the employees of Peter C’s performed their bartending duties.”

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