Drinking, Driving, And Making A Fast Buck

One of the worst things about our legal system is the way that the buck is often passed from the people primarily responsible for injuries or crimes to tangentially involved businesses for no other reason than because that’s where the money is. Here’s a prime example of that:

“On an early May morning three years ago, Robert E. Nunez II got into a horrific car crash in Malden after a night of bar-hopping during which he says he had eight drinks of vodka and soda. The accident left him a paraplegic.

Nunez, a 2001 graduate of Revere High School, acknowledges in court papers that he was driving drunk and also carrying a phony ID card because he was just 19 at the time, too young to legally drink in Massachusetts. Nevertheless, a state judge has ruled he can sue two bars for negligence on the grounds that they allegedly breached their duties by serving an underage customer.

As in most states, Massachusetts allows lawsuits against bars that serve an obviously intoxicated customer who injures or kills someone while driving. But those claims are typically filed by an innocent bystander; for example, a pedestrian who is hit.

Drunk drivers who are hurt also occasionally sue for damages. But such claims are far less common, in part because state law requires such motorists to prove that the bars showed ”willful, wanton, or reckless” disregard for their intoxication while serving them — a very high standard.

Suffolk Superior Court Judge Ralph D. Gants said Nunez lacked the evidence to make such a claim against Carrabba’s Italian Grill on Route 1 in Peabody and The Palace on Broadway in Saugus. But the suit can go to trial anyway, he said, because Nunez had presented enough evidence that the bars violated their duty not to serve someone under the legal drinking age. To prevail, Nunez need only prove negligence, a much lower standard, the judge said.

”In short, since it is a crime for a tavern to serve alcohol to an underaged 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,” Gants wrote earlier this month. ”That duty is owed not only to any third party injured by the underaged adult but to the underaged adult himself.”

Lawyers for the bars decried the ruling in interviews this week.

Matthew Perkins, the lawyer for Carrabba’s, said the ruling ”leaves the door open for adult, but underage, drinkers to hold the commercial establishments responsible for their own illegal actions.” Thomas Drechsler, the lawyer for The Palace, said he is considering appealing it to a single justice of the state Appeals Court.”

First of all, before we delve into this specific case, it’s worth noting that this is true, but also ridiculous:

“As in most states, Massachusetts allows lawsuits against bars that serve an obviously intoxicated customer who injures or kills someone while driving. But those claims are typically filed by an innocent bystander; for example, a pedestrian who is hit.”

Look, drinking is legal, people often go to bars specifically to get intoxicated, and everyone knows better than to drive drunk. If you walk into a bar and get trashed, it should be your responsibility to find a way to get home safely, not the responsibility of the bar.

To blame a bar because some drunk gets on the road and hurts someone is like blaming Snapper if someone buries their neighbor in the yard and runs one of their lawn mowers over their head. You’re not supposed to use a lawn mower as a murder weapon and you’re not supposed to drive home drunk. If you do so, you’re the one who should be held responsible.

But in this case, we’ve gone even further than that. We have a guy using a phony ID who’s turning around and blaming the bars he tricked into selling him liquor. This is like a burglar suing you because he hurt his back carrying the TV he stole from your apartment out to his van.

It’s all nonsense and if our judicial system were a little more sane, lawsuits like this would be laughed out of court before they even got started.

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