Are you responsible for the acts of social companions?

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Are you responsible for the acts of social companions?

Postby Alan K » Fri Jun 29, 2001 4:49 pm

Some of you may have read in one of the forums I posted a couple of months ago about a case decided in the Appellate Division of the Massachusetts Court System which could have created a new class of social liability to persons who have failed to exercise a newly imposed duty to protect social companions.

The case, which could have far reaching applications to all of us under certain circumstances of socializing with friends or acquaintances, resulted from the following set of facts, treated briefly in this post for reasons of time and space.

An 18 year old adult, but under aged drinker was accompanied by a couple of friends to a local pub, and false ID’s were produced, and the 18 year old proceeded to get quite drunk with his companions.

The companions left the pub and the 18 year old remained for a while drinking some more.

The 18 year old then left the Pub and walked along an adjacent highway where he was struck and killed by a motorist.

The estate of the decedent sued the Pub, and the Pub manager, who had served 30 days in jail for criminal violations of statutes, brought suit against the companions alleging that there was a social duty to not abandon friends or acquaintances under such circumstances, and for breach of such duty, a claim for contribution to negligence should be allowed.

This case caused quite a stir in the legal community because it would create a new cause of action based merely on social relationship, and in many cases possibly with almost total strangers.

Proponents looking for deep pockets claimed these duties exist, but arguments seemed to be based on social morality (IMHO), rather than established duties based upon formal relationships or overt conduct of such companions.

MA’s having a drink with some of the guys/gals at a local bar and grille, after a workout at the dojo. One straggler remains and drinks and gets killed on the street trying to hale a taxi.

Can the bistro owner sue you because you should have stayed and seen this person safely in a cab or called a friend to provide transportation?

Well according to the Appellate Division this could have been and the case went to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC).

Well we can relax somewhat and I don’t have to bore you with the tons of complex theory and reasoning that go into these decisions many times, because in this case, the SJC was short and sweet and ruled: “Paquet was an adult, having reached the age of eighteen years…Under Hamilton v. Ganias, Paquet’s companions would not be liable to Paquet’s estate for having served him alcoholic beverages. Where the defendants would not be liable to Paquet’s estate even if they had directly supplied liquor to Paquet, they will not beheld liable for facilitating Paquet’s acquisition of liquor from some other source. That the method of providing Paquet with alcoholic beverages was more devious and circuitous than direct service to him does not give rise to a new form of liability.”

“Paquet as an adult drinker was responsible for his own conduct, and the social companions who helped him acquire alcoholic beverages did not owe him any duty to prevent him from suffering the consequences of that self-inflicted intoxication. Hamilton V. Ganias states at page 667, While we do not condone defendant’s conduct in violating various laws concerning the provision of alcohol to underage persons---these violation do not make them liable to Paquet’s estate and therefore do not make them liable for contribution”

In an age where more and more obligations and rules, decisions and statutes weave a web of regulation and conduct that we as sheep must follow, a case arrives and says with sanity, that I am not my brother’s keeper and the idea that “Just a moment, the Devil made me do it”, is replaced with the idea that an adult person can be responsible for his or her own actions.

Alan K

"The Goddess of Justice is Blind"
Alan K
Posts: 493
Joined: Mon Nov 20, 2000 6:01 am
Location: Framingham, MA USA

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