Chances are you have heard the phrase “dram shop laws.” But do you know exactly what it means?
The basic concept behind these laws is straightforward. When in effect, a dram shop law allows someone hurt by the misconduct of an intoxicated person (drunk driver) to sue third-parties who over-served the driver.
Laws on this subject vary considerably across the nation. In general, there are two different issues at play: First, should the law apply only to “vendors” (like a bar) or also to “social hosts” (like someone who throws a party at their house)? Second, should the law apply only when minors are over-served or also to adults? Every state has different version of the law; most are provided for by statute with a few rules set up via case law.
Maryland DUI Injury Law
So what is the law in Maryland? Sadly, our state is one of the very few which does not currently allow third parties to be held accountable for their role in alcohol-related accidents via dram shop laws. State legislators have yet to pass any statutes which provide for these causes of action no matter if the driver was an adult or minor and regardless of whether the third-party is a social host or vendor.
Moreover, a state Court of Appeals issued a ruling which reaffirmed the fact that there is no dram shop liability in Maryland.
The opinion in the case, Warr Jr. v. JMGM Group was released earlier this summer. The plaintiffs in the case, a husband and wife, were traveling in Montgomery County with their two daughters in 2008. Around 10 p.m., while traveling down Interstate 270, a drunk driver collided with the couple’s car. One of the young girls in the car died in the collision, while the other three were seriously injured.
It was later learned that the drunk driver had been drinking at a Dogfish Head Alehouse for at least five hours before the accident. In a subsequent legal action, the plaintiffs filed suit against the parent company of Dogfish Head, claiming that their duty not to over-serve patrons was breached.
In dismissing the case this year, the Court of Appeals declined to impose a dram shop liability on the vendor. In it’s opinion the Court noted that it declined the opportunity to impose dram shop liability in several cases over the past few decades and the Court argued that any legal changes on this front should come from the state legislature instead of the courts.
Should We Change the Law to Protect Injured Maryland Residents?
This recent court decision has invigorated advocates who are calling for changes in state law in order to better protect Maryland travelers. One of the group’s leading the effort, Mother’s Against Drunk Driving (MADD), published a helpful chart comparing the dram shop laws in each state. Even at a quick glance you can see that Maryland is one of only three states with zero liability. Local policymakers will need to take a careful look and determine if we are best served by remaining a national outlier.
The group also published a succinct list of benefits which accrue from the laws. MADD argues that imposing liability in these cases leads to fewer alcohol-related crashes while helping to publicize the importance of not over-serving intoxicated patrons.
Legal Help in Maryland
The injury attorneys at Gordon Feinblatt have extensive experience helping Maryland residents hurt by automobile negligence, including drunk drivers. For assistance understanding your legal options in the aftermath of an accident, feel free to contact us today online or call us at 1-888-540-2599.