A new court opinion from the Maryland Court of Appeals establishes that any adult who allows those under age 21 to drink in their home to be sued if the underage kids are later in a car crash. The decision is based on the public policy behind Maryland’s criminal law that prohibits adults from serving alcohol to those under 21 in their homes. Judge Adkins opinion states “We hold that there exists a limited form of social host liability sounding in negligence based on the strong public policy reflected in CR Sec. 10-117 (b), but that it only exists when the adults in question act knowingly and willfully, as required by the statute.”
Let’s say you have teenagers aged 14, 17 and 19. You let your kids and some of their friends drink in your basement or garage figuring that “they are going to drink anyway, at least if it’s at my home I can keep an eye on it.” One of your kid’s friends then leaves, drives home and crashes injuring or killing someone else. Now the injured person can sue not just the driver of the car, but also YOU FOR ALLOWING THE DRINKING TO OCCUR IN YOUR HOME. This is called Social Host Liability, and this new case represents a change in Maryland law. By suing YOU and not just the negligent driver, the injured party or deceased person’s estate is not limited to the car insurance proceeds. Instead they can go after YOU, YOUR ASSETS, and/or your HOME. Your personal homeowner’s policy may or may not provide coverage for this sort of thing. The bottom line is that with this change in Maryland law, YOU ABSOLUTELY SHOULD NOT EVER LET ANYONE UNDERAGE DRINK IN YOUR HOME.
The Court of Appeals decision consolidated two separate cases with similar facts. The facts of the case help to better understand this decision. A 17-year-old named Steven became intoxicated during a party at adult Linda Stapf’s house. Steven left early the next morning still drunk and rode in the bed of David Erdman’s pickup truck (Erdman was another person at the party who was 22). Steven was killed when Erdman crashed the truck and Steven was ejected from the vehicle. When Ms. Staph came home there was a large crowd partying at her house. She told her son that some people needed to leave but she let her son and a few of his friends continue to drink in the garage. Staph observed the teens drinking in the garage, asked them to turn down the music, but she did not tell them to stop drinking. The State charged Staph with violating CR Section 10-117 which prohibits adults from knowingly allowing those under 21 to consume alcohol on their premises. The criminal charges were dropped but the mother of the deceased child filed a civil lawsuit against Ms. Stapf. The case was dismissed in the trial court based on lack of causation, and the dismissal was affirmed at the Intermediate Appellate Court in Maryland. However, the Court of Appeals, Maryland’s highest Court, reversed and held that Ms. Staph could be held legally liable for allowing the underage teenagers to drink in her home.
Our legal team provides legal representation to those seriously injured in car accidents. If someone you know suffered a serious injury as a result of an adult serving alcohol to teenagers, call us for a free consultation at (888) 213-8140.