A motorist who had several beers at a friend's home injures a pedestrian while driving home.
An executive loses control of his car and kills himself after drinking heavily at a fund-raiser. A woman who is clearly drunk leaves a bar and returns home, where she falls asleep with a lighted cigarette in her hand and injures herself and her neighbors.
In each of these cases, the hosts could be held liable for injuries caused by their guests under legislation that State Rep. Salvatore F. DiMasi (D-North End) is expected to file sometime next week.
DiMasi, cochairman of the Joint Committee on Criminal Justice, unveiled a draft of his proposed bill yesterday at the eighth luncheon on drunk driving and alcohol abuse. The luncheon is sponsored by the Center for Health Communication at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Several participants at the luncheon questioned the idea of a law on the issue, however, saying that social host liability should be determined by the court on a case-by-case basis and not by the state Legislature.
Others said that DiMasi's bill contained no guidelines on judging the liability of, for example, a corporate host who invites hundreds of people to a function and is then sued after a guest becomes involves in a car accident.
Thomas Lambert, a professor at the Suffolk University School of Law and chairman of the Amicus Curiae Committee of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, said he was concerned that such a statute would invite legal challenge.
DiMasi's draft legislation was outlined more than a month after the state Supreme Judicial Court stated that it would recognize social host liability under certain circumstances. The court said it would review the issue, which has provoked public uproar in some states, on a case- by-case basis.
The court, which already had determined that owners of bars, restaurants, package stores and other commercial vendors of alcohol could be sued, made no determinations on social host liability until Aug. 6.
On that date, the justices decided not to hold two hosts responsible for their guests' actions but noted that they would recognize liability under different circumstances.
Yesterday, DiMasi told reporters, judges and lawyers that he had decided to act because the state "Supreme Court established that social hosts could be held responsible for their guests actions, but never gave us any guidelines."
"Most people are unaware of the fact that they can be held liable," he said. "They want to know what they should do, how far they should go to protect someone" from injuring himself and others.
DiMasi's draft legislation states, among other things, that a host could be sued if he realized his guest was intoxicated and offered him more to drink, and if he knew his guest would be driving home and made no reasonable effort to stop him.
DiMasi said yesterday that juries would determine how much the host should be assessed in damages.
"No legislation can anticipate the variety of cases that are going to come before the court," said Lambert, who added that the court would be better equipped to determine who should be held liable.
Arthur F. Licata, an attorney for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, made similar comments. He asserted that the issue is relatively new to constituents and probably would be defeated or could result in an unfair or weak law.
"No field testing has been done on this issue because it is new," Licata said. "What we need to do at this time is allow these cases to work their way through the courts so that both sides -- those for and those against -- can weed out potential weaknesses" in social host liability legislation before it is introduced.
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