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Giving Notice in a Maine Liquor Liability Act Case

photo_17193_20100314.jpgThe Maine Liquor Liability Act (MLLA) is the exclusive remedy against bartenders or other servers of alcohol who serve liquor to people who go on to cause injury to somebody else. The MLLA limits damages for persons injured or killed when a server of alcohol serves an obviously intoxicated person or a minor.

Anyone who sells or gives liquor to an individual, including those who simply give alcohol to someone at a party or social gathering, can be sued for being either negligent or reckless. Negligent serving of alcohol means that the server served liquor to someone he or she knew was a minor or intoxicated under the law. Reckless serving of alcohol means that the server intentionally serves liquor to a minor or obviously intoxicated person when he knows, but consciously disregards, the substantial risk that serving liquor to the person will cause physical harm to the drinker or others he encounters.

The MLLA limits damages to $350,000 plus medical expenses in the event of property damage, bodily injury or a death caused by the consumption of alcohol served by a defendant under this Act. In order to claim your rights under the MLLA, however, you must give notice within 180 days (six months) that you intend to hold the bar, restaurant, social host or other server of alcohol responsible for a personal injury or wrongful death. The notice must include the time, place and circumstances of the server’s conduct that creates MLLA liability.

In a 2011 case, a drunk driver injured one of his fellow passengers (the plaintiff) on a chartered bus after they finished up a business promotion trip. An employee of a company had organized a fishing and dinner trip to promote one of the company’s business relationships with a lumber company. The trip ended at the lumber company’s parking lot. The plaintiff was an employee of the lumber company.

The employee who organized the business promotion trip had brought four or five cases of beer and a gallon of rum for consumption during the trip. This employee was aware that the drunk driver had been drinking rum all the way to the harbor where the dinner was because he was loud and drank in front of others on the boat and elsewhere.

On the return trip, some people claimed racial epithets were shouted at the drunk driver. When they got back to the parking lot, the drunk driver went to his truck. Some of the people participating in the trip came to his truck in a threatening manner. Soon afterward he struck and injured one of his fellow passengers. The drunk driver was criminally charged.

The man who was injured filed suit under the MLLA. However, he failed to give the required 180 day notice. The Superior Court dismissed the MLLA claims due to the absence of timely notice. Because he failed to give notice, he was forced to rely on his claims of common law negligence to try to obtain compensation for his injuries.

The man who was injured argued that two of the individuals, one of them the bus driver and the other the trip organizer, had a duty as a “common carrier” to remove the drunk driver from the bus or else keep him from driving. He also argued that that these two individuals had banned consumption of alcohol on the bus and that this created a duty. Because the MLLA claims had been dismissed, had to prove a “special relationship” between himself and the company and man who organized the trip. The court declined to extend the law of negligence to cover these types of scenarios.

As you can see, the passage of time played a huge role in the outcome of this case. The plaintiff might have had a much stronger case had he consulted with an experienced Maine attorney immediately after the accident and timely served the requisite MLLA notice.

If you or a loved one has suffered serious injuries due to someone else’s negligence or recklessness, you may be entitled to compensation for any damages or losses. However, there are strict time limits related to filing claims and it is important not to delay consulting with an attorney. Contact our Rockport, Maine offices at (888) 596-1099 or via our online form.

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