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The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts just ruled that commercial establishments that serve drinks to underage persons (under 21 in Massachusetts) have a higher level of liability than when they serve to legal age, intoxicated patrons. The case, decided on January 9, 2007, is Nunez v. Carrabba’ Italian Grille, Inc. The plaintiff, a 19 year old, spent a night drinking heavily at Carrabba’s and another establishment. While driving home, he testified that he attempted to speed through an intersection while the light remained green, and collided with another car. The accident left him paralyzed with quadriplegia. By statute, M.G.L. c. 231, §85T, a commercial establishment is liable for serving liquor to an already drunk patron who then becomes injured, only if the establishment acts with willful, wanton or reckless conduct – a difficult standard to prove. The SJC said that an underage drinker who is injured due to being served drinks in a restaurant or bar, need only show that the establishment was negligent. The Court said that its decision was warranted by laws showing that the Legislature was especially concerned about the effects of alcohol on underage drinkers and, implicitly, the strong mandate that holders of liquor licenses make no mistakes in determining the legal age of patrons who are served alcohol.

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