Understanding dram shop laws

For those in Lynnfield injured in accidents caused by drunk drivers, the most obvious question many often have is why would anyone be reckless enough to get behind the wheel after drinking.

Such is the natural reaction in these cases. Many people, however, also question how it happened that others enabled that person to become so intoxicated in the first place.

The question of responsibility

The decision to drive while intoxicated is an individual one. No one forces a person to get behind the wheel drunk. It may not be the legal responsibility of another person to bar someone from drinking and driving, although people are certainly encouraged to discourage others from such behavior. However, if a person or establishment assisted in a person becoming intoxicated, and that person later caused an accident as a result of their intoxication, then it is arguable that those parties should share in the liability.

Dram shop liability

The principles of dram shop laws rest upon this premise. Dram shop laws assign liability to establishments who serve patrons alcohol if those patrons become drunk and cause accidents. A similar type of law exists for private parties who provide alcohol at events called “social host liability.”

Many states have enacted formal dram shop laws that spell out their liability requirements. Massachusetts, however, is not one of them.

That is not to say that there is no legal recourse available to those who want to hold third parties responsible for their potential role in causing a drunk driving accident. Indeed, Section 138.69 of Massachusetts’ General Laws states that any establishment with license from the state to serve alcohol cannot serve drinks to a customer who is already visibly intoxicated. Thus, while the employees of a restaurant or bar have no specific legal requirement to ensure that their patrons do not drive drunk, they must serve drinks responsibly so as to limit the potential of patrons becoming too drunk to drive.


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