The Massachusetts courts have continued to expand the liability of individuals and companies which contribute to drunk driving accidents. On November 26, 2008, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial court ruled that limousine driver have a responsibility to prevent their passengers from drinking and driving, and to prevent drunk driving accidents.
In the accident leading to the case, one man was killed and several others were injured in a car accident caused by the drunk driver. The driver, along with several other men, had been drinking at a bachelor party on the night of the crash. The men, expecting to become intoxicated during the party, had hired a limousine service to provide safe transportation. The limo driver picked the men up at a bar in South Boston, where they had been drinking, and drove them to a strip club in Rhode Island, stopping along the way to purchase even more alcohol. The limo driver allowed the men to drink in the limo on the return trip. The limo driver knew the passengers were drunk.
At 2:10 A.M., the limo driver dropped at least one man off at his car near the South Boston bar. The bar was closed. The MBTA was closed. It was plainly foreseeable that the drunk limo passenger would attempt to drive home.
The victims of the drunk driving crash sued the limo service for wrongful death and personal injuries, arguing that its driver knew, or should have known, that his passenger was drunk, was going to drive home, and would likely injure or kill someone. The trial court threw the case out, saying the limo driver had no responsibility. But the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found that the limo driver had the duty or responsibility to use reasonable care to avoid discharging its passenger “who they knew, or should have know, was intoxicated” and likely to drink and drive.
The SJC stated, “[a] private carrier, engaged in the business of transporting persons consuming alcohol, is in a primary position to use care to avoid leaving an intoxicated passenger at a location where it is likely the passenger will drive.” The case will now go to trial.
This case is important because it defines responsibility on private carriers, such as limo drivers, to make sure passengers who have been drinking do not drive home drunk after they are dropped off. Private carriers are required to exercise “reasonable care” to ensure that its passengers are not going to drive home drunk at the end of the night.
In addition to limo drivers and private carries, bars and restaurants also have a legal duty to prevent people from drinking and driving. Bars are prohibited from serving customers who are visibly intoxicated. If a bar serves someone who is visibly intoxicated, and that person drives home and causes a car crash, the bar is legally responsible for injuries caused by the drunk driver. This is known as “dram shop” liability.
The case name is Commerce Insurance Co. v. Ultimate Livery Service, Inc. In the case the SJC also found that Commerce Insurance Company was required to provide its insurance coverage to the limousine service; Commerce had attempted to disclaim the coverage.
Drunk drivers pose a dangerous threat to public safety. Drunk drivers endanger not only themselves, but everyone else on the road. Victims of drunk drivers should not bear the costs of injuries caused by drunk drivers. Businesses involved in the liquor and entertainment industry must take reasonable measures to prevent drunk driving. And if they fail to do so, they are responsible for compensating victims of drunk drivers.
If you or someone you love has been injured by a drunk driver, call the Massachusetts injury attorneys at Breakstone, White & Gluck at 800-379-1244 for a free consultation.