Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Outer Reaches

Did you know that it's illegal for a Massachusetts tavern to serve alcohol to an intoxicated person? That's what G.L. c. 138, § 69 says. The statute plays a supporting role in Justice Cordy's concurrence today in Commerce Ins. Co. v. Ultimate Livery Serv., Inc., SJC No. 10149.

So now you know that (whether you believe/agree with it or not is your own business).

The decision is more interesting than all that, though, because it delivers us to the way-outer penumbra of negligence liability. The Court reverses a trial judge and holds that a livery service can be liable if it drops off a drunk person, has reason to think that the drunk person is going to get in a car and drive somewhere, and said drunk person does just that and causes harm.

This is a very hard call. Any time you see a court state that its "finding of possible liability in this case is limited to the facts described above", you can bet there's some discomfort with the ramifications of the holding. And you can bet that blue-faced law students will argue this issue into the ground for years to come.

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