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Liquor Server Liability

Individuals who serve alcoholic beverages have a heightened legal duty. This applies to servers and bartenders who are employed in this capacity, as well as individuals hosting guests and serving alcohol. Everybody has an interest in being aware of liquor serving liability law. Essentially, when you hand a drink to another person, you are taking on an enhanced legal responsibility. Few people are aware of this, and it can result in catastrophic legal consequences.

Common Injuries Resulting from Overserving

We have all seen someone who is intoxicated. For some, it is clear that they are at a risk to themselves and to other people. The mere state of intoxication puts people at a heightened risk of injury from health complications resulting from the alcohol itself, and injuries resulting from impaired judgement.

Here are some common injuries that result from overserving:

  • Drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and bicyclists hit by a drunk driver
  • Minors injured after illegally being served alcohol in a bar
  • Other patrons injured in an alcohol-related event, often a bar fight

Critics of server liability argue that it is unreasonable to police the drinking of full-grown adults. They ought to be responsible for the injuries they incur and cause when they decide to drink alcohol, as opposed to the server serving them being held accountable. The law, however, seeks to place liability on the person serving the alcohol to create an additional motivation to ensure everyone’s safety.

Commercial Distribution of Alcohol

Restaurant, bars, producers, wholesalers, and service venues fall under the commercial category of alcohol distribution. All of these entities, and therefore their employees, owe a duty to exercise reasonable care in serving alcohol. Criminal and civil penalties can be imposed against establishments who overserve resulting in an injury to other patrons or their staff. Furthermore, administrative fines can be levied, and liquor licenses can be suspended. The overwhelming majority of these claims are cases of assault and battery against other patrons or wait-staff. Civil suits can result in both compensatory and punitive damages.

Massachusetts law requires all restaurant and bar owners to have liquor liability insurance. They are required to provide $250,000 per person and $500,000 per incident in incidents that involve serious injuries or death. This coverage often does not cover the total legal damages for liquor-related injuries, and restaurants will have to cover the rest.

Social Distribution of Alcohol

A social host is anyone who serves alcohol to another person without any monetary exchange. This often occurs when individuals host friends and family over to their property and provides the guess with alcohol. Property includes your home, a commercial venue where you provide the alcohol, or even a hotel room you are renting for the evening. Social hosts have a duty to exercise reasonable care in the distribution of alcohol. Many cases of this sort involve a party host providing a guest with alcohol, and the guest later getting in a drunk driving accident with another driver. The injured party can sue both the party guest, as well as the host. To be clear, the guest’s liability is not shifted onto the host, it is simply expanded to the host, allowing the injured party to recover from both at-fault parties.

You should note that social hosts can be either an adult or a minor. In general, social hosts will not be held responsible for guests that injure themselves, as long as they are over the age of 18. Furthermore, if you have an underage child (under 21) who provides alcohol to other underage children in your home, you can be held liable even if you are not home. This is often not enforced unless the adult provided the alcohol and they should have reasonably assumed that the alcohol would be consumed while they were not present. If you have no knowledge of drinking, you will likely not be held liable. Social hosts who allow underaged drinking can be charged criminally. The Massachusetts court is not telling you to never throw a party. It simply seeks to incentivize people to distribute alcohol carefully. You should always monitor your guest’s consumption and make sure they are of legal age.

If you or a loved one has been injured by someone who became intoxicated at a private party or commercial establishment, or is the subject of a social host liability lawsuit, contact a Boston injury attorney at Altman & Altman, LLP., for a free confidential consultation.

To schedule your free consultation with an experienced Boston, Massachusetts social host liability attorney at Altman & Altman LLP, call 617.492.3000 or 800.481.6199 or contact us online.

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