Maryland High Court Refuses to Hold Bar Liable for Drunken Patron Actions

The Maryland Court of Appeals refused to create a “dram shop” law when it ruled earlier this month that a bar cannot be held liable for the actions of a drunken patron after he or she departs.

The case was originally argued in March, on behalf of a family whose 10 year old was killed during a car crash on I-270 back in 2008. The driver responsible for the young girl’s death had been served 20 drinks at a local bar prior to getting behind the wheel.

The court held that individuals should solely be held responsible for their own decisions and actions. In addition, the court determined that General Assembly is the venue most proper in which to create new laws, not the court.

The dissenting opinion argued that this was a lost to ensure bars were held accountable for protecting the public from overly intoxicated customers. The judge wrote, “this case presented the opportunity to impose dram shop liability on commercial vendors of alcohol” which served their patrons even after they were visibly impaired as a result of their alcohol consumption. Further, according to a study cited in the dissent, studies have shown that these types of laws could potentially lead to 14 deaths fewer in Maryland every year.

The driver in the case had been served 20 drinks (i.e., 17 beers and 3 shots, within a six hour period) before being asked to leave by the bar due to rowdy behavior.

He pleaded guilty to manslaughter by vehicle, as well as leaving the scene of an accident that involved personal injuries; he received a sentence of eight years in prison and according to court records was paroled in 2012.

This controversial decision comes on the heels of another high profile Court of Appeals decision where the judges refused to make changes to another unfavorable doctrine, contributory negligence. The court is apparently attempting to make itself clear that it will not change law without legislative action via creating new statutes.

Although this ruling is disappointing, the decision only affects the liability of bars that serve the person later responsible for causing an accident. The individual who causes the harm is still fully legally accountable for their actions. In this case, for example, the family potentially has a wrongful death claim against the driver whose excessive speeding and driving under the influence resulted in the death of their young daughter.

If you or a loved one has sustained an injury or died as a result of someone else’s negligence in Maryland or Washington D.C., consult the experienced attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers. Our Maryland personal injury lawyers have extensive experience in helping victims recover the damages they are entitled to. We will advocate vigorously on your behalf. Contact us today in order to schedule your free initial consultation. You can reach us through our website, or by calling 1-800-654-1949.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland High Court Upholds Contributory Negligence Rule, Maryland Accident Law Blog, published July 12, 2013
Maryland Highway Worker Killed on Route 216 in Scaggsville, Maryland Accident Law Blog, published July 5, 2013

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