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Langemann v. Davis

398 Mass. 166, 495 NE 2d 847 (1986)

Harwich, Massachusetts

Ruth E. Langemann (injured victim)

Margaret Davis (social host)

Darren R. Hathaway (guest/driver)

Although she would not be at home on the evening of January 7, 1983, Margaret Davis gave her high school age daughter permission to hold a party at the home. Mrs. Davis had never kept alcohol in her house, nor did she allow her daughter to consume alcohol. When Mrs. Davis left the home, the house contained no alcohol.

Darren Hathaway, age 17, attended the party and drank beer furnished by another guest. After leaving the party, Hathaway crashed his car into a vehicle driven by Ms. Langemann, causing serious injuries to her. Ms. Langemann contended that because Mrs. Davis knew or reasonably should have known that alcoholic beverages would be available, a court could find her negligent in failing to supervise her daughter's party. The lower court granted Mrs. Davis' motion for summary judgment. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts affirmed.

The Court found that the facts of the case did not approach those of cases in which social host liability had been recognized. The court noted that Mrs. Davis did not serve or make any alcoholic beverages available to Hathaway. The court stated:

We reject the argument that a parent, who neither provides alcoholic beverages nor makes them available, owes a duty to travelers on the highways to supervise a party given by her minor child. We reach this conclusion even if Davis knew or reasonably should have known that alcoholic beverages would be available. The defendant's conduct did not create a risk of injury to the plaintiff for which we are prepared to say the common law should provide a remedy. Langemann at 168-169.

However, the Court further commented that if intoxication caused Hathaway's negligent driving, whoever provided Hathaway with the beer might be liable to the plaintiff. The Court explained that the person who provided the beer might have violated the social host statute in effect at that time and that a violation of the law could be evidence of negligence supporting a civil action against the provider of the beer.