South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Negligence Rule Applies to Alcoholic Beverage Sellers to Underage Buyers

Massachusetts high court held that negligence is the standard in determining liability when a seller of alcoholic beverages sells to buyers under age 21. The dram shop law liability requires wanton, reckless behavior when selling to those over age 21.

Topic Torts
Key Words

Negligence; Statutory Liability; Dram Shop Statute; Alcohol; Minors

C A S E   S U M M A R Y

Plaintiff, age 18, went to Carrabba's, a restaurant where he had worked previously and where he knew many employees. He ate dinner and drank six alcoholic beverages served by a bartender who knew him. He was not charged for dinner or drinks. Hours later, he went to a night club, the Palace, where he was admitted despite being underage, because he knew the bouncer. He consumed a couple alcoholic beverages there. Driving home, he was in an accident. His blood alcohol was above the allowable limit. While he did not cause the accident, he was speeding, which contributed to the seriousness of his injuries. He sued Carrabba's and the Palace, claiming they were negligent in serving him alcoholic beverages and that they were liable under the state dram shop law for serving an underage customer alcohol. The liability issue was directed to the Massachusetts high court for consideration.


A breach of a licensed tavern's duty to refrain from serving alcohol to youths occurs when the establishment knew or reasonably should have known that it was furnishing alcohol to a person under the age of 21. This duty to refrain from serving those under age 21 applies whether they appear to be drunk or not. In a case such as this, the patron need not show willful, wanton, or reckless conduct on the part of the serving establishment, as would be required for liability under the dram shop statute when selling alcohol to patrons of legal age. Instead, the patron may prevail on a showing that the establishment was negligent in serving alcohol to patrons under the legal age.


Nunez v. Carrabba's Italian Grill, ---N.E.2d--- (2007 WL 38698, Sup. Jud. Ct., Mass., 2007)

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