Massachusetts Dram Shop Claims

A claim brought against someone who has injured you while they were intoxicated is known as a “dram shop” claim.  (Historical note: the name comes from the fact that alcohol was traditionally sold by a unit of measure called a “dram.”) If you are injured by someone whose intoxication played a part in causing an accident, you can usually bring a personal injury lawsuit against that person. In many states, including Massachusetts, the law also allows you to hold an alcohol vendor civilly liable for providing alcohol to the intoxicated person who caused your injuries.


Massachusetts has several laws that impose third-party liability for an alcohol-related accident.  These rules govern both dram shop claims as well as social host situations – which are hosts who serve alcohol at parties or other events, not at a bar/restaurant.



Massachusetts Dram Shop Law

Unlike other states with dram shop laws, Massachusetts does not have a specific statute allowing injured people to bring civil claims for damages against alcohol vendors. However, Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 138, Section 69 states “[N]o alcoholic beverage shall be sold or delivered on any premises licensed under this chapter to an intoxicated person.”  Therefore in order to hold a bar/restaurant liable as a third party in Massachusetts after an alcohol-related accident, the injured party must show that the bar/restaurant knew the person who caused the injuries was intoxicated and continued to serve that person alcohol after it became apparent that they were intoxicated.


Social Host Liability in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, a social host may face criminal penalties if he or she allows a minor under age 21 to consume alcohol on the social host’s property. However, there is no civil statute that can be used to hold a social host’s liable if a guest — whether a minor or an adult — becomes intoxicated and then causes harm to someone else.

Damages and Time Limits in Massachusetts Dram Shop Cases

In a dram shop claim, an injured person may seek damages from an alcohol vendor who negligently served an intoxicated person who then caused injuries. Damages are similar to claims the injured person would have if they were injured in any other accident:

  • hospital bills and other medical treatment
  • lost wages and other lost income
  • damaged or destroyed property
  • the lost value of household services or childcare the injured person would otherwise have performed, and
  • pain and suffering.


Like other civil lawsuits, a dram shop claim must be filed within the time limit set by Massachusetts’s statute of limitations. Under this law, an injured person typically has three years from the date of injury to file a claim. Once this three-year time limit has passed, the claimant loses the right to have the case considered by the court. So, it’s crucial to understand and abide by this filing deadline.