Dram Shop Laws in Massachusetts – How They Work

Dram Law

October 26, 2022 by Anthony Riccio

An injured party can typically file a personal injury lawsuit against someone who injured them and whose alcohol contributed to the accident. Additionally, the law occasionally permits the injured person to hold an alcohol distributor civilly accountable for delivering alcohol to the intoxicated person who caused the injuries in numerous jurisdictions, including Massachusetts. 

Due to the fact that alcohol used to be sold in units of measurement called “drams,” these assertions are sometimes referred to as “dram shop” claims.

What is a Dram Shop?

An old English phrase for a tavern where alcohol was sold in individual servings known as “drams” was referred to as a “dram shop.” These days, any business establishments with a liquor license are covered by this rule, including bars, restaurants, clubs, liquor stores, and others. 

According to the law, these establishments may be held accountable if they offer alcohol to someone who is already intoxicated or a minor, and that person later causes harm or property damage to a third party.

A person harmed in an accident involving a driver who was under the influence may suffer severe injuries, and the compensation they receive from the at-fault driver’s insurance policy may not even come close to covering the expenses. Because of this, organizations that hold a liquor license are required to purchase a particular type of liability insurance. The victim can then file a lawsuit against the store to recover their accident-related charges, including their medical bills.

Understanding Massachusetts Dram Shop Laws

Massachusetts Dram Law

Massachusetts does not have a particular provision permitting injured people to file civil claims for damages against alcohol retailers, unlike other states with dram shop statutes. Vendors are not permitted to serve or sell alcohol to “intoxicated persons” or minors, according to Massachusetts law. And Massachusetts courts have ruled that a vendor who engages in this conduct is liable in a civil lawsuit for carelessness.

In Massachusetts, the victim of an alcohol-related injury must prove that the vendor continued to provide alcohol to the person who caused their injuries even after that person became clearly intoxicated in order to hold the vendor accountable as a third party. Typically, when a vendor continues to serve alcohol to an intoxicated patron, that is negligent behavior, which can be proven in court.

Social Host Liability Law in Massachusetts

In terms of social host liability, Massachusetts law operates similarly to the dram shop laws. No law exists that establishes social host liability. However, if the social host recklessly served more alcohol to a clearly intoxicated guest, they could be held liable for the harm they produced. It is unlawful for a host to permit a guest who is under 21 to consume alcohol. 

A criminal law being broken is proof of negligence. Anyone under the age of 21 should not be permitted to consume alcohol, and if they were served and then caused harm, the person who served them alcohol can also be held responsible. 

If the guest was an adult who was visibly impaired and over the age of 21, the homeowner can also be found negligent if they continued to serve the individual and knowingly let them drive home.

Proving Negligence in Dram Shop Liability Cases

The claimant must prove negligence on the part of the defendant in order to pursue a business establishment under dram shop liability legislation. In any instance, demonstrating negligence requires the following four elements:

  1. Proving the defendant owed a duty of care
  2. Showing that the defendant breached that duty of care through action or inaction 
  3. That breach of the duty caused the plaintiff’s injuries  
  4. The plaintiff incurred specific damages as a result of the breach 

In this particular situation, negligence can be failing to inquire about a customer’s age, serving after closing or delivering an excessive number of drinks quickly. To demonstrate carelessness, the injured party would need to demonstrate that the individual supplying the customer alcohol knew or should have known the customer was intoxicated.

Showing that the defendant knew that the person was intoxicated can sometimes be difficult. Hiring an experienced personal injury attorney to help establish this evidence can help when pursuing compensation. An attorney may be able to obtain security footage and/or accounts from witnesses. 

Businesses Governed by Dram Shop Laws 

Typically, any establishment that offers alcohol for sale or consumption will be governed by Dram Shop laws. Bars, restaurants, nightclubs, country clubs, athletic and sporting venues (such as stadiums), liquor stores, and fraternal organizations fall under this category. 

This area of the law is governed by Massachusetts General Laws Ch.138 69, which prohibits the sale or delivery of alcoholic drinks to an intoxicated individual on the premises covered by the applicable liquor license. According to the law, bartenders, wait staff, managers, and owners are all required to keep a close eye out for symptoms of intoxication in everyone who is provided alcohol on the property.

This entails taking precautions to look out for intoxication symptoms, including slurred speech, sluggish or delayed reaction time, hostility, and other typical behaviors that are known to happen while drunk. According to widely accepted alcohol industry best practices, owners of establishments that serve alcohol are advised to give all bartenders and wait staff serving alcohol the proper training in how to watch out for unusual behavior and appropriately deal with (meaning “shut off”) any customers who appear to be intoxicated. TIPS is the most commonly used training method in the industry. 

Recovering Damages under Dram Shop Laws

An injured party may file a dram shop claim against an alcohol seller or host who negligently served the drunk party who caused the injury in order to recover damages. These types of lawsuits frequently ask for compensation for hospital costs, medical care, lost wages, destroyed property, and pain and suffering.

A dram shop claim must be brought within the deadline established by Massachusetts’ statute of limitations, much like other civil claims. For these kinds of claims, the statute of limitations is typically three years. But because every situation is unique, you should always speak with a lawyer as quickly as you can after being hurt to make sure your legal rights are safeguarded.

If you’ve been dealing with a dram shop claim, please Call Riccio Law at 617-404-8878 to schedule a free consultation.