by Dennis Garrigan
For MBA Vice President Richard P. Campbell, it all began in the
early 1980s when he was asked to represent a Roman Catholic nun,
Ruth Langemann, who sustained catastrophic injuries when she was
struck by an impaired teenage driver who had just left an
unsupervised house party.
The expansion of liability in this case and others like it
helped Campbell and his firm to establish social host liability in
common law - which extends legal responsibility for the consumption
of alcohol beyond the person who consumes it to those who furnish
it. The intoxicated guest not only remains liable to persons
injured as a result of his actions, but now shares direct liability
with the host.
Following the death in 2003 of 16-year-old Trista Zinck and
injury of 17-year-old Neil Bornstein caused by a teenager who was
driving drunk, Campbell was asked to make a presentation to help
the Newburyport community deal with the tragedy, which involved a
social host. Since that time, Campbell has made close to 150
presentations on behalf of legal, school, parent and civic groups
across the region to emphasize that anyone - however
well-intentioned - who enables an impaired driver to get behind the
wheel of a car becomes just as liable as the driver.
"In the 1960s and '70s, people from all walks of life would
routinely consume alcohol and never think twice about getting
behind the wheel of a car," said Campbell, founder of Campbell,
Campbell, Edwards & Conroy in Boston. "Today there is no
hesitation to punish individuals who drive under the influence of
alcohol and ultimately injure or kill someone."
Twice last month, North Andover police charged parents with
allowing illegal underage drinking on their properties.
When addressing community groups, Campbell tells audiences that
we are in the watershed stages of punishing social hosts who allow
their guests to drink and drive. In fact, social hosts may also be
liable for injuries suffered by the intoxicated guest. Imposing
liability on the host reflects the modern view that the provider of
alcohol has an obligation to the public to reduce risky behavior by
furnishing alcohol safely and responsibly.
Using high-profile cases in which parents, adults and friends in
Massachusetts have furnished alcohol that led to injury or death,
Campbell illustrates the stark reality surrounding the decisions
made by social hosts.
"As a society, we are becoming less and less tolerant of the
kind of behavior where parents and friends say, 'I thought I was
doing them a favor, I thought I was trying to protect them,' I
didn't know they were going to do this,'" said Campbell. "We as a
society are saying that's not good enough. If someone gets hurt or
killed in these circumstances, we are ever more willing to hold
these people responsible."
In the Massachusetts criminal statute, underage persons are now
held criminally responsible if they allow their friends or other
underage individuals to possess alcohol under their control.
Campbell tells community groups that everyone needs to consider the
serious ramifications of decisions made concerning people under