In yesterday’s blog post, we discussed why the estate of Taylor Meyer might be able to prevail in its wrongful death claim, or at least why the case might be able to reach a favorable settlement.
In today’s post we will discuss some of the challenges that the Meyer estate will face under Massachusetts law. The first challenge was alluded to by Kathi Jean Taylor who said at the press conference: “No one forced [my daughter Taylor] to drink alcohol that night,” and that Taylor “absolutely” bears some responsibility for her accident.
These statements raise another possible issue here: comparative negligence. Under the Masachusetts comparative negligence statute, if the party that is injured bears more than 50 percent responsibility for her injuries, she is not allowed to recover anything.
Comparative negligence will definitely be an argument that the defense lawyers use in this case. But Massachusetts courts have been reluctant to fault minors for their consumption of alcohol. In the important case of Tobin v. Norwood Country Club, 422 Mass. 126 (1996), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, emphasized that minors “are thought to be peculiarly susceptible to the effects of alcohol and less able to make decisions about what amount of alcohol they may safely consume in various situations.” (The court in that case went on to conclude that a driver who had been injured by a minor who consumed alcohol at a country club could sue the country club for his injuries.)
In light of the fact that Massachusetts courts have been reluctant to heap blame on minors in liquor liability cases, comparative negligence might not turn out to be such a big issue in the Meyer case. A judge might refuse to instruct a jury on comparative negligence in light of the forgiving tone of some of the case law.
A much more effective defense in this case – at least for the homeowner defendants – will be a lack of causation defense. In any Massachusetts case for negligence, the plaintiff must prove not only that the defendant was negligent, but that the defendant’s negligent actions caused her injuries.
So, for example, if a drunk driver is careening down the street at 100 mph per hour but brakes to a stop before coming into contact with you, his actions are negligent but you will not have any claim against him (unless you suffer very serious emotional distress) because his negligence did not cause your injuries.
Consequently, the adult party hosts in this care are likely to get a lot of mileage out of the legal argument that their actions, even if negligent, did not cause Taylor’s death. The adult defendants in this case will likely argue that Taylor’s death was attributable not to her consumption of alcohol but to the intervening cause of the teenagers who (apparently) purposefully misdirected Taylor into the swampland as some sort of joke.
They will likely argue that the actions of the teens who allegedly directed Taylor into the swampland were not foreseeable and that therefore they should not be held liable.
Who will prevail? We will see when this case reaches its ultimate conclusion – whether that be a pretrial settlement, a jury verdict, or an appeals court decision.
Hopefully, whatever the resolution in this case, it will discourage irresponsible drinking, incentivize parents to better supervise their children and reduce tragic deaths like Taylor’s.
Mother sues party mates of dead teen, boston.com, January 14, 2010
Mother files lawsuit after daughter’s drowning death at party, bostonherald.com, January 13, 2010
If you have been injured by the negligence of an individual who was overserved alcohol, and need the services of a Boston personal injury attorney call the Law Office of Alan H. Crede at (617)973-6434 for a free consultation.