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Law School Case Brief

Ulwick v. DeChristopher - 411 Mass. 401, 582 N.E.2d 954 (1991)

Rule:

Social host liability is recognized under a common law theory of negligence only in circumstances where the host has served or provided liquor to an intoxicated guest. Such a theory of liability proceeds from the duty of care that accompanies control of the liquor supply. The relevant inquiry in determining negligence is who had the authority to deny further service of alcohol when intoxication became apparent. 

Facts:

The injured party claimed that a common law duty in negligence was owed by the social host to travelers who could be injured by the negligent driving of an intoxicated guest. The party was by-and-large a "B.Y.O.B." ("Bring Your Own Booze") drinking party. The injured party further alleged that because the social host negligently encouraged drinking in his home, he should have been held as culpable as if he had served the drinks himself. The social host claimed there was no common law duty.

Issue:

May a social host be held liable in tort for injuries caused to a third person by an intoxicated guest at the host's party where it appears that the host neither served nor provided liquor to the guest?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The court held that there was no duty. The court found that liability of social hosts had been imposed solely in situations where a social host made the liquor available to the intoxicated guest and had control of the liquor supply. The social host in the instant case provided none of the liquor and had no control over the liquor that belonged to the intoxicated guest, and the court would not impose a supervisory duty on the social host to police the conduct of guests who drank their own liquor. There was no duty to travelers on the highways from social hosts who neither provided liquor nor made it available to third parties. The factor of control over the liquor continued to be the dominant consideration in whether liability would be imposed.

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