If you’re injured by someone whose intoxication played a part in causing an accident, you can usually bring a personal injury lawsuit against that person. And, in many states, including Massachusetts, the law also sometimes allows you to hold an alcohol vendor civilly liable for providing alcohol to the intoxicated person who caused your injuries. These kinds of claims are known as “dram shop” claims because alcohol used to be sold in a unit of measurement called a “dram.”
In this article, we'll look at Massachusetts laws related to third-party liability for an alcohol-related accident, including dram shop laws and rules that affect social hosts who serve alcohol at parties or other events.
Unlike other states with dram shop laws, Massachusetts does not have a specific statute allowing injured people to bring civil claims for damages against alcohol vendors. However, Massachusetts law does prohibit vendors from serving or selling alcohol to an “intoxicated person” or someone who’s underage. And Massachusetts courts have held that a vendor who does so can be held liable for negligence in a civil lawsuit.
In order to hold a vendor liable as a third party after an alcohol-related accident in Massachusetts, the injured person must show that the vendor continued to serve alcohol to the person who caused the injuries, even after that person became visibly intoxicated.
Let's look at an example. After work, Dylan stops at Bob's Bar for happy hour. After a few rounds, Dylan begins to slur his speech and has trouble sitting on his barstool, but the bartender continues to serve Dylan alcohol anyway. When Dylan finally tries to stand up from the barstool, he falls over, colliding with Petunia who is sitting on the barstool next to Dylan. Petunia falls to the floor and is injured.
Petunia can file a personal injury claim directly against Dylan for her injuries. She can also file a dram shop claim against Bob's Bar for negligently serving alcohol to Dylan even though Dylan had become visibly intoxicated.
Massachusetts law works in a similar way with respect to social host liability. There’s no statute providing for social host liability. But a social host can be sued for the damages caused by an intoxicated guest if the social host negligently provided a visibly intoxicated guest with more alcohol.
In a dram shop claim, an injured person can seek damages from an alcohol vendor or social host who negligently served the intoxicated person responsible for the injuries. Damages that are commonly sought in these kinds of claims might include:
Like other civil lawsuits, a dram shop claim must be filed within the time limit set by Massachusetts's statute of limitations. Generally, the statute of limitations is three years for these types of claims. But every case is different, so always get in contact with an attorney as soon as possible after being injured to ensure your legal rights are protected.