Massachusetts "Dram Shop" Law: Can Your Liquor Store Be Held Liable?

In September it was reported that Maranda Schmitt, from Stoughton was charged with drunk driving following an accident with her four-year-old in the car. She reportedly had a lengthy record of driving offenses, including a previous conviction of driving under the influence.

Car accidents, assaults and other injury producing activities are all too often the result of alcohol inebriation. Under Massachusetts law, the establishment that sold then the liquor can also be held liable for the resulting injuries. The law provides that no alcoholic beverage can be sold or delivered on to a person already intoxicated . This means bartenders, servers, managers and owners have a responsibility to observe slurred speech, rowdiness and other behaviors associated with intoxication. Owners are also required to provide proper training for staff to monitor behavior and address intoxicated patrons.

This law is commonly referred to as the dram shop law and applies to any establishment that sells alcoholic beverages including restaurants, bars, liquor stores, sporting event arenas and social clubs. The business will be liable if it continues to serve alcoholic beverages to an already clearly inebriated customer, who then goes on to be involved in a drunk-driving accident or a fight inside or outside the establishment resulting in injury.

In 2010 a new law in Massachusetts required establishments who serve alcohol to show proof of liquor liability insurance before they could obtain a liquor license. Therefore, there is now liability insurance covering the establishment if they are responsible. Most policies pay a minimum of $250,000 for injury or death to one person, or a minimum of $500,000 for more than one person killed or injured in the same incident.


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