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DUIs and College Binge Drinkers: Is the Property Owner Liable?

Most college binge drinking occurs on campus where students either walk or take public transportation after a night of heavy partying. However some who engage in college binge drinking do get behind the wheel, which can lead to an arrest for DUI or worse. For a state with an incredible number of young college students, Massachusetts has a bizarre drunk driving law. The law allows drivers on college campuses to avoid DUI convictions, since the roadways are not considered "public ways." A Massachusetts lawmaker recently announced plans to file a bill that would include public and private school campus roads in the definition of "public ways." Introduction of the bill came as a result of a recent case in Worcester, MA, when a 22-year-old was found not guilty of DUI and negligent driving on the Assumption College campus.

Property owners are also starting to take the heat for their binge drinking tenants. Anthony Torsell was convicted of vehicular homicide in 2006 stemming from a DUI. His grandparents were sued, accused of contributing to the death because they (allegedly) owned the property where the underage student regularly drank. Plaintiff attorneys argued that the couple knew, or should have known, of Torsell's proclivity to hold large underage binge drinking parties there, and should have prevented the home from becoming a dangerous nuisance to the public. The charges were later dismissed after the grandparents proving that they did not own the property. Had it turned out that they did, in fact, own the propertym one wonders whether a jury would have found them liable for wrongful death.

If you believe an underage college student living on your property is holding drinking parties and allowing others to drive home drunk, consider this more than a noise issue - if you condone or allow the behavior, and it results in a death, you might find yourself in court.

Millie Anne Cavanaugh, Esq. is a former insurance defense attorney who now specializes in immigration and naturalization law. She is licensed to practice law in California and Massachusetts. The information contained herein is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as a solicitation for your business or as legal advice on any subject matter. You should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of this information without seeking independent legal advice.

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