Establishing Dram Shop Liability in Boston Drunk Driving Accidents

Every one in three traffic deaths in the U.S. is caused by a drunk driver, according to national statistics. In Massachusetts, 2.2 percent of drivers report driving after drinking too much at some point in the last 30 days – which is higher than the national average of 1.9 percent. The actual number is likely much higher, given self-reporting errors.drunk driving injury

Drunk driving crashes cost Massachusetts millions of dollars each year in emergency services, medical services, property damage and loss of productivity – not to mention the devastating personal and financial burden of individual victims and families. In terms of recovering some of those losses, civil litigation is usually the best recourse victims have. Although some criminal cases will conclude with a restitution order, a drunk driving accident lawsuit often results in higher compensation – a necessity for those whose lives are forever altered.

But drunk drivers aren’t the only possible defendants in these cases. MGL ch. 138 section 69 prohibits the sale or delivery of alcohol to an intoxicated person on any licensed premises. Although this is a Massachusetts statute aims to establish grounds for criminal justice action, courts have also held violation can be used to establish civil liability of restaurants, bars, nightclubs and other venues after an impaired driving crash. These cases are not simple or easy, but they can be an important means of damage recovery and a way to help prevent future drunk driving crashes by holding these businesses accountable.

Businesses Advice on Preventing Liquor Law Liability

A recent article published in Total Food Service, a restaurant industry magazine, discusses ways alcohol vendors can limit their liability in dram shop cases. Although our DUI injury attorneys are not in the business of helping them reduce their level of responsibility, some of the measures discussed are important because they may help reduce overall incidents of drunk driving – which is good for everyone on the road.

The first line of defense, writers advise, is education of staffers who serve alcohol to the public. That’s because when a server is aware of the obvious signs of impairment, they can make a better judgment call as to when to withhold service of alcohol to that patron. Restaurants that don’t have a clear policy in place for cutting off patrons who have had too much to drink or that don’t provide training for employees on how to recognize the symptoms of intoxication may be more susceptible to a finding of negligence in Massachusetts OUI injury cases.

Writers also advise training should include teaching staffers how to monitor patrons’ consumption. One method regularly taught is called “SMART” – Server & Manager Alcohol Responsibility Training. This involves using a traffic light system (green, yellow, red), with green showing no signs of impairment or rapid consumption and red meaning the individual seems intent on getting drunk or is already there. Servers are also encouraged to slow customers’ alcohol intake by suggesting food items and engage in conversation to better ascertain the person’s level of impairment. There is also TIPS (Training for Intervention Procedures) and TAM (Techniques for Alcohol Management). These programs are intended to help prevent patrons from becoming severely intoxicated on site, as well as underage drinking and drunk driving.

The article also outlines good procedures for denying service to patrons who have had too much alcohol, and reminding employees that serving alcohol to patrons who are underage or intoxicated could result not only civil fines, but also criminal action and civil liability against not just the restaurant but the individual server as well.

Most restaurants do have liquor liability insurance policies which provide coverage in third-party liability cases filed by victims of drunk driving accidents caused resulting from customers who were negligently served too much alcohol.

Elements of Successful Massachusetts Dram Shop Lawsuits

Massachusetts lawsuits for the negligent service of alcohol were first recognized by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in the 1968 case of Adamian v. Three Sons, Inc. In that case, the court held that the sale of alcohol by a bartender to an intoxicated drinker can be found to the proximate cause of an injury to a third person caused by the drinker’s driving of a vehicle. Then in the 1982 case of Cimino v. Milford Keg, Inc., the state high court outlined the specific elements of these claims. The plaintiff will need to show:

  • A patron of the defendant;
  • Was served intoxicating liquors;
  • While he/ she was intoxicated;
  • Defendant vendor knew or reasonably should have known patron was drunk when served;
  • Patron operated a motor vehicle while intoxicated;
  • This operation was reasonably foreseeable by the vendor defendant;
  • Someone of ordinary prudence would have refrained from serving alcohol to that patron in the same or similar circumstances;
  • The impaired operation of that vehicle caused plaintiff’s death/ injury within the scope of foreseeable risk.

These are not always simple elements to prove, but they are not impossible. Be mindful though that dram shop litigation in Massachusetts has other requirements. In order to safeguard against “frivolous litigation,” plaintiffs, after filing their claim, must within 90 days file an affidavit that outlines sufficient facts that can raise legitimate questions of liability that are appropriate to be resolved in a court of law. This is clearly established in MGL chapter 231 section 60J, and if that affidavit isn’t filed on time and there is no extension, the case will be dismissed.

Your attorney needs to have a clear understanding not only of the elements of these cases, but have the resources to conduct a thorough investigation as to the facts of your case to see how they apply to the law and make a sound judgment as to the viability of your case. Further, you need a law firm that will be on top of these deadlines so you don’t lose your stake to these important claims.

Researchers Say Stronger Laws Reduce OUI Deaths

Although we know that prohibition didn’t go over well in the U.S., there is still ample evidence supporting the conclusion that more stringent state alcohol laws help reduce drunk driving deaths.

Last year, researchers at Boston Medical Center conducted a study, the results of which were published in the journal Pediatrics, which concluded comprehensive alcohol control policies drive down the number of alcohol-related crash deaths among young people. In assessing alcohol policies of 29 states and cross-referencing them with alcohol-related crashes among people younger than 20 over the course of a dozen years (about 85,000), they found states with more restrictive alcohol policies had fewer overall drunk driving crashes and fatalities.

Massachusetts had some of the stronger alcohol policies compared to other states, but drunk driving is still a problem here, which means alcohol service businesses must work actively on the front lines to do all they can to reduce the risk.

If you or someone you love has been injured a Boston drunk driving accident, call for a free and confidential appointment at (617) 777-7777.

Additional Resources:

Managing Liquor Liability Exposures Through Training and Coverage, March 12, 2018, By Robert Fiorito, Total Food Service

More Blog Entries:

Massachusetts Drunk Driving Accident Victims Must Fight Hard for Compensation, Feb. 25, 2018, Boston Drunk Driving Accident Attorney Blog

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