Dram Shop Laws and Social Host Liability for Alcohol-Related Accidents in Maryland

When an intoxicated person injures someone else in Maryland, can a third party be liable for providing the alcohol?

Every U.S. state has rules allowing an injured person to seek compensation from the person or business that was legally at fault for the underlying accident. When the person who caused the injuries was intoxicated at the time, many states also allow the injured person to seek compensation from the alcohol vendor and/or social host who provided the alcohol.

Maryland, however, does not allow these kinds of third party injury claims against alcohol vendors or social hosts after an alcohol-related accident. However, the injured person may have a number of other valid personal injury claims, depending on the circumstances of the accident. We'll discuss those options in this article.

Liability for Alcohol-Related Accidents in Maryland

Laws allowing injured people to seek compensation from alcohol vendors are commonly called "dram shop" laws, based on the historical fact that alcohol was traditionally sold in these shops by a unit of measure called a dram.

Maryland has no dram shop statute, and Maryland courts have consistently refused to allow dram shop claims to be brought in the state. However, a person injured by an intoxicated individual may have other valid claims. Here is an example:

Suppose that Dylan stops at Barbie's Bar for a drink after work. After several rounds, Dylan becomes noticeably intoxicated, but the bartender continues to serve him drinks. Eventually, Dylan leaves the bar area to go to the restroom, which is located in the basement. On his way down the basement steps, Dylan stumbles and bumps into Padma. Both Dylan and Padma fall to the bottom of the steps and are injured.

Padma may file a personal injury claim directly against Dylan for causing the accident through his negligence. However, in Maryland, Padma may not seek damages from Barbie's Bar for serving the alcohol that intoxicated Dylan, even if Dylan would not have bumped her if he were sober. Likewise, Dylan may not seek damages from the bar for serving him alcohol. Just as a third party dram shop claim isn't an option in Maryland, neither is a first party claim.

If Padma and Dylan fell because the staircase itself was unreasonably dangerous, both of them may have a valid claim against the bar under the state's premises liability law. However, the key difference here is that this claim would be based on the unsafe condition of the staircase, not on the fact that the bar served alcohol to Dylan.

Maryland Social Host Liability Laws

In Maryland, an adult who provides alcohol to a minor in a private social host setting may face criminal penalties, including fines and potential jail time. However, the law does not allow the minor -- or anyone injured by the minor in an alcohol-related accident -- to sue the social host for damages related to injuries. Likewise, Maryland law does not allow adults who are injured by intoxicated social guests to seek damages from the social host who provided the alcohol.

Here is an illustration. Suppose that Dagny goes to a party hosted by Hans, her neighbor. Although Hans knows that Dagny is only 19 years old, he serves her several glasses of wine. While dancing on Hans's deck, Dagny trips and runs into Parker. Both Dagny and Parker fall off the deck and are injured.

Here, Parker may have a personal injury claim against Dagny for causing the accident. Both Parker and Dagny may also have a valid premises liability claim if they fell because the deck was unreasonably dangerous. Neither Parker nor Dagny, however, may file a lawsuit against Hans for serving Dagny alcohol -- even though Hans may face criminal penalties for doing so.

Damages and Time Limits for Injury Claims in Maryland

Injury claims, including premises liability claims, are civil lawsuits in Maryland, meaning that liability in these cases is expressed solely in terms of money damages intended to compensate the injured person for all losses resulting from the injury. Typical damages in these kinds of claims include:

  • hospital bills and other medical expenses
  • lost wages and benefits, including the lost value of future wages if the injuries prevent a person from continuing to work
  • lost value of household services and childcare the person contributed
  • property damage, and
  • pain and suffering resulting from the accident, the injuries, and necessary medical treatment.

All injury claims in Maryland must be filed in court within three years of the date the injury occurred, under the state's statute of limitations. A lawsuit that is filed after the three year deadline has passed will almost certainly be dismissed by the court.

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