Admitted Drunk, Underage Driver Can Sue Bars, Mass. Court Rules

November 1, 2005

A Suffolk Superior Court in Boston has ruled that an admittedly drunk underage drinker in Massachusetts can sue two bars that served him alcohol before he was involved in a vehicle crash.

According to Judge Ralph Gants, drunk driver Robert Nunez II, who was 19 at the time of the crash that left him a paraplegic, presented enough evidence that the licensed establishments violated their legal duty not to serve an under-age customer. He wrote:

“In short, since it is a crime for a tavern to serve alcohol to an underage adult, a tavern has a legal duty to not serve alcohol to anyone it knows or reasonably should know is under 21 years of age. That duty is owed not only to any third party injured by the underaged adult but to the underaged adult himself, since the law seeks to protect all persons under 21 from their anticipated inability to drink responsibly. If the underaged adult can prove that a tavern breached that duty, and that he was injured as a result of the alcohol the tavern negligently permitted him to drink, he can obtain damages for the injuries caused by the defendant tavern’s negligence.”

State law allows drunk drivers to sue bars that served them if they show “willful, wanton, or reckless” disregard for their intoxication. However, the judge ruled that because Nunez was underage he only needed to show that the bars were negligent in serving him drinks and thus his case could proceed to trial.

The court reserved for the trial court the question of whether the defendant taverns may claim comparative negligence.

Nunez admitted that he was driving drunk. He contended that he could have avoided the accident if he had not been intoxicated.

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