In its July 2013 opinion, Warr v. JMGM Group, LLC, d/b/a Dogfish Head Alehouse, the Maryland Court of Appeals held that an establishment that serves alcohol is not responsible when an intoxicated patron harms a third-party while operating a vehicle. After consuming about twenty drinks over a 6-hour period at the Dogfish Head Alehouse in Gaithersburg and being told that he was being cut-off, Michael Eaton left the establishment, drove on I-270 at 95 mph, and caused a collision that killed a 10-year old girl and injured others.
In Maryland, it is crime to serve alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person. Nevertheless, the Maryland Court of Appeals refused to impose civil liability on the Dogfish Head Alehouse on the grounds that this criminal statute was not intended to protect the general public from harm caused by an intoxicated patron.
This comports with a prior decision of the Court of Appeals, which found that there is no causal relationship between serving alcohol and injuries caused by intoxicated patrons. State v. Hatfield, 197 Md. 249 (1951) (“Human beings, drunk or sober, are responsible for their own torts. The law recognizes no relation of proximate cause between a sale of liquor and a tort committed by a buyer who has drunk the liquor”).
In 43 states and the District of Columbia, vendors of alcohol can be held liable in at least some circumstances for accidents that occur after they serve drinks to a visibly intoxicated customer. Maryland, Virginia and Delaware are among the seven states that lack “dram-shop” liability provisions, as they are known. The other States are Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada and South Dakota. The imposition of civil liability creates an incentive for bars and restaurants not to allow patrons to become intoxicated and/or not allow such patrons to drive.
In her dissent, Judge Sally Adkins wrote: “The majority of the general public would be outraged at a commercial vendor who, for the sake of profit, continues to serve an already drunk person well past the line of being ‘visibly under the influence,’ to the point of becoming aggressive and violent, and then sends him on his way, where he gets behind the wheel of a vehicle and kills a ten-year-old girl. By the standards of our community, this is morally blameworthy.”
Drunken and impair drivers cause an average of 4,899 accidents and 220 deaths each year in Maryland. This equates to 18 deaths a month or a death every 40 hours. I have represented many individuals who were injured by drunk drivers and several families in which a drunk driver killed a relative. If you wish for Maryland to impose liability on bars and restaurants for the injuries caused by their intoxicated patrons, you should contact your elected Maryland State Senators and Delegates to enact legislation to protect the general public.