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301-862-4400
22335 Exploration Drive Ste. 2030
Lexington Park, MD 20653
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Maryland High Court Recognizes Civil Liability of Adults who Permit Underage Drinking

 

            On July 5, 2016, the Maryland Court of Appeals held that an adult who permits underage drinking can be held civilly liable if the minor thereafter causes injury to a third party.  It has long been illegal for an adult to supply alcohol to minors; however this is the first time that Maryland has recognized an associated civil liability.

 

            Maryland law prohibits an adult from permitting a person under the age of twenty-one to consume or possess alcohol at their residence and similarly prohibits an adult from furnishing alcohol to a person under the age of twenty-one.  The recent cases involved two victims, a passenger who was killed and a pedestrian who was seriously injured by minors who had been drinking at house parties prior to the incidents.

 

            Under existing law at the time the case was decided, an adult could not knowingly and willfully allow an individual under the age of twenty-one years to possess or consume an alcoholic beverage at a residence that the adult owns or leases and in which the adult resides.  The first issue that the court decided was whether the statute was designed to protect a specific class of persons.  The court concluded that the statute was designed to protect persons under the age of twenty-one.

 

            The second question the court decided was whether the victim’s injury and death were proximately caused by the adult providing the alcohol.  Maryland generally does not recognize social host liability.  That means that where an adult leaves a party intoxicated and causes injury to some other person, the injured party does not have a claim against the host of the party.

 

            After a review of the law’s legislative history as well as a look at how other states have addressed the issue, the court concluded that liability could attach to the defendant.  In reaching this conclusion, the court remarked that the defendant observed that the minor was intoxicated and allowed him to leave without making any attempt to prevent him from getting in a car and driving.

 

            The court reasoned that the defendant should have foreseen that the minor was intoxicated and would not have been able to drive safely.  The court also held that the defendant was not entitled to a defense of contributory negligence on the part of the drunk party-goer because the defendant committed an intentional tort in allowing the minor to party at her home.  The court drew an important distinction between allowing a minor to consume alcohol and allowing an adult to consume alcohol.  Ultimately, the court concluded that limited social-host liability may attach against an individual provides alcohol to a minor. 

 

           

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22335 Exploration Drive

Suite 2030

Lexington Park, MD 20653

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Samuel C.P. Baldwin, Jr., Esq.

Janice Briscoe, Esq.

Richard J. Steinmetz Jr., Esq.

David J. Hebb, Esq.

Sandra Kaufman Jonasen, Esq.

Andrew N. Sindler, Esq.
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With an office conveniently located in Lexington Park, The Law Offices of Baldwin & Briscoe, P.C. serves clients in the counties and cities of Lexington Park, Leonardtown, Hollywood, Mechanicsville, Loveville, Helen, Breton Bay, Chaptico, Charlotte Hall, Golden Beach, Avenue, La Plata, Waldorf, Newburg, Port Tobacco, Port Charles, Solomons Island, Prince Frederick, Chesapeake Shores, Hughesville, Benedict, Nanjemoy, Lusby, Port Republic, St. Mary's County, Charles County, Calvert County, Prince George's County, Southern Maryland.


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