Defendants’ Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings Allowed in Social Host / Wrongful Death Case

Attorney Margarita Warren successfully obtained the dismissal of a social host action in Essex Superior Court by filing a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings shortly after the completion of written discovery.  The action arose from a fatal motor vehicle accident which occurred following a party hosted by the defendant homeowners.  The plaintiff’s decedent had allegedly consumed alcohol while attending the defendants’ party, left the party driving her own vehicle, and then struck a tree.  The decedent sustained serious injuries as a result of the impact and later succumbed to her injuries.

The plaintiffs’ estate alleged that not only did the defendant homeowners supply the alcohol to the decedent, but that the defendants had allowed the decedent to leave their home while knowing that she was intoxicated, and, further, that one defendant facilitated the decedent’s departure by moving his vehicle so as to allow the decedent access her own vehicle.  The plaintiff argued that the conduct of the defendant hosts was willful, wanton, reckless, and constituted gross negligence. The plaintiff further argued that the actions of the defendants (i.e. observing plaintiff’s intoxication, escorting her from the party and moving a vehicle to grant her access to her own vehicle) created a separate hazard from the provision of the alcohol. Plaintiff likened this hazard to the creation of an unsafe condition on the premises.

Attorney Warren argued that Massachusetts law does not recognize a cause of action against social hosts for an adult intoxicated guest’s own injuries resulting from the hosts’ serving of alcohol.  Further, Warren argued that the defendants’ actions or inactions did not rise to the level of gross negligence.  Moreover, Warren argued that the defendant hosts had no duty to the plaintiff’s decedent, an adult intoxicated guest who injured herself in a single-vehicle accident and, accordingly, the defendants could not be held liable to the plaintiff under the Wrongful Death Statute.

Justice Robert L. Ullman of Essex Superior Court ultimately rejected the plaintiff’s argument, instead finding for the defendant social hosts.  In his written opinion, Justice Ullman opined that “a social host’s facilitation of an intoxicated guest’s departure from the host’s home, without more, cannot be the basis for liability.”  The judge further opined that the social host doctrine hinged on the “fortuity that the defendant’s car was blocking the decedent’s car” and that even leaving a door unlocked could be perceived as “facilitating a guest’s departure” and that such an act would not create liability where otherwise none existed.  The court issued a judgment on the pleadings for the defendants.  No appeal was filed.