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What Is The Law Regarding Liability in Drunk Driving Accidents?

Drunk driving is simply a bad idea that sometimes results in catastrophic injury or death. The law is extensive related to drunk driving, with obvious criminal prohibition. In Massachusetts, we have a 0.8 blood alcohol content threshold for determining whether a driver has committed the offense of OUI or DWI. But this article douses on the civil liability for personal injury and property damages arising out of drunk driving accidents.

In Massachusetts, the law provides for the recovery of damages when a party's negligence causes damages to another individual. In a typical car accident case, there is generally someone at fault. Perhaps a driver ran a red light and hit a vehicle lawfully passing through the intersection: The driver who ran the red light would likely be at fault.

When the service of alcohol is present prior to the occurrence of the accident, liability also may be extended to the party who dispensed the alcohol. There are two theories under which such liability is typically extended: dram shop liability and social host liability.

Dram shop liability would extend when a licensed establishment (bar, restaurant, club, liquor store) served alcohol to an intoxicated person. In plain terms, when an establishment serves someone who is already drunk, it may incur liability for damages that result from that customer's operation of a motor vehicle.

Social host liability assesses liability to anyone who controlled the alcohol and permitted its consumption when the individual was already intoxicated, where that individual then caused damages to a third party while operating a motor vehicle. The typical social host case is when an individual is overserved at a residence and--in the process of driving home--causes an accident. Social host liability is not limited to residential situations, however, and it could potentially arise in a licensed establishment.

Neither theory is an independent cause of action. Rather, both establish a means of extending negligence to third party providers of alcohol. Each case type has unique procedural requirements which, if not followed, could limit or prohibit recovery. If you have a case in which an individual has been injured or lost his or her life to a drunk driver, call our office at (866) 995-6663 today and speak with an experienced Massachusetts Drunk Driving Accident Attorney.


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