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Limo/Van Service Held Liable To Injured Victims, After Dropping Drunken Passenger At His Car, Where Customer Then Causes Major Car Crash

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Limousine Service Held Liable for Dropping Drunken Passenger Where Drunk Passenger Then Causes Major Car Crash

This is an interesting case report involving a limousine/van service where the limo driver did what they usually do: drive around people during the night, and oftentimes the passengers in the limousine get drunk or intoxicated-usually so they do not need to drive their own cars and can avoid a DUI/DWI charge, or a stupid and dangerous car accident causing injuries while drunk. In this particular case, several men hired the limousine service to take them to a Boston bachelor party in 2001, and then they went to a sports bar, drinking through much of the night. At the end of the night, the limousine service driver took them back not to their homes, but to a car at a Boston area sports bar where they had first been picked up by the limo service.

The drunk passengers got into a car, driven by Mr. Powers, and the drunk driver drove several blocks from where they were dropped off, then caused a terrible car crash that killed an off-duty police officer and also seriously injured other passengers. The interesting part of the case did not involve whether Powers was drunk or whether he was the cause of the crash, the issue was whether the limousine service could be held liable (in a wrongful death and personal injury lawsuit) for dropping the intoxicated passengers right beside a car when it was obvious that one of them would drive the vehicle while intoxicated. Could the limo service be responsible to the off duty cop or other persons injured subsequently when the drunk driver caused their injuries?

The Massachusetts state court judge dismissed the lawsuit against the limousine service finding that the limo company here, and their driver, were not responsible for the conduct of the passenger once he left the limo/van. The case was then appealed and the Massachusetts Appeals court reversed the trial court ruling and found that the limo/van service and the driver owed a legal duty to the occupants of the car who were injured because of the drunk driver’s negligence.

The court stated:

[The limo driver] knew, or should have known, that Powers was intoxicated, yet he allowed Powers to make his own judgment about driving, failing to take any reasonable precautions to prevent him from doing so. A jury could conclude that [the van service] and [the driver] were negligent when they left Powers at a location where he would likely drive and pose an extreme danger to the public.

The limo/van service insurance company tried to deny coverage for this accident as well, but the appeals court decided that the insurance company must cover claims of the passengers made against the limousine company. A national trade association for the limo services question indicated that it was worried that the ruling appeared to make limousine/van services substitute their judgment for the judgment of passengers who get out of a van or limo and then take whatever actions they may take.

However, one of the Boston injury attorneys representing the off duty police officer who was killed in the accident said that many of the limo/van services market themselves to people that they know will be drinking and may be intoxicated. The attorney pointed out that the transportation service should know better than to simply drop a person at their car, who will then drive away in an intoxicated/drunk status.

The Massachusetts decision relating to holding van/limo services liable for these sorts of actions raises a bunch of “extended” liability issues. For example, in the state of Virginia bars and restaurants normally cannot not be held liable for serving alcohol to someone who then causes car crash (called “dram shop” liability issues) although “dram shop”/bar responsibility is determined on a state by state basis-there is no uniform rule. However, the Massachusetts court apparently looked at the fact that the limo/van service was well aware that this person was drunk, and simply dropped him beside his car in the parking lot, knowing that he would immediately operate it. This ruling sends a signal to limo companies, and transportation/van services, that they simply can’t avoid any responsibility at all for allowing drunks to operated their cars after long nights of partying-at least in Massachusetts.

My Take: the law needs to give the benefit of the doubt to the victims of drunk driving, and yes, to the victims against the limo/van service that drop the drunks at their cars. True, the limo service is not a nanny service, but if your business is driving around customers that are drunk/intoxicated, its not unreasonable to require such services to advise customers that they will be dropped off at their hotels or homes, and not at a parking lot to drive home drunk!

Shapiro, Cooper Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm is based in Virginia practicing primarily in the southeastern U.S. and handles only injury law, including car, truck, railroad, and medical negligence cases and more. The firm’s website is: hsinjurylaw.com, the firm edits two injury law blogs: Virginia Beach Injuryboard & Norfolk Injuryboard, and also hosts a video library covering many FAQ’s on personal injury subjects.