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McGuiggan v. New England Tel. & Tel. Co. - 398 Mass. 152, 496 N.E.2d 141 (1986)


The traditional view supported by the weight of authority has been that the drinker's voluntary consumption alone is the "proximate" cause of the third party's injury and that a person who sold or gave liquor to an intoxicated adult drinker is not liable for subsequent injuries caused by his intoxication.


The decedent, Daniel McGuiggan, was killed when his head struck a telephone pole after he leaned out of a moving vehicle as he became sick to his stomach. Defendant James Magee was driving the car. Prior to the accident, the decedent and Magee attended a high school graduation party thrown by the decedent's parents, third-party defendants Daniel E. and Ruth J. McGuiggan (collectively, the "McGuiggans"). Mr. McGuiggan admitted that he had given Magee one alcoholic drink when he arrived at the party. Several hours after the accident, Magee had a blood-alcohol level that was above the legal limit. Mr. McGuiggan, as the administrator of the decedent's estate, filed a lawsuit in Massachusetts superior court against defendant New England Telephone and Telegraph Company ("Company"), which owned the telephone pole that the decedent struck. The Company thereafter filed a third-party complaint against the McGuiggans, Magee, the owner of the car that Magee was driving, and the city in which the accident occurred. The Company claimed that the McGuiggans were liable as social hosts for the decedent's death. The McGuiggans filed a motion for summary judgment on the Company's claim against them, which the superior court granted. The Company appealed.


Were the McGuiggans, as social hosts who furnished alcoholic beverages to Magee, an adult guest, liable for the decedent's death, which was caused shortly thereafter by that Magee's negligent operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol?




The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts affirmed the superior court's judgment. The court held that where, as on the present record, there was no showing that the McGuiggans knew that Magee was intoxicated, and there was a showing that he was not obviously intoxicated at any time that night, there was no case for liability. As to social host liability in general, the court ruled that it would recognize a social host's liability to a person injured by an intoxicated guest's negligent operation of a motor vehicle where the host knew or should have known that his guest was drunk, and nevertheless gave him or permitted him to take an alcoholic drink and thereafter, because of his intoxication, the guest negligently operated a motor vehicle causing the third person's injury. The court observed that, in deciding whether the social host exercised ordinary prudence in such circumstances, a relevant consideration would be whether the social host knew or reasonably should have known that the intoxicated guest might presently operate a motor vehicle.

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