Court of Appeals of Maryland Rules Hosts Who Allow Underage Drinking on Their Property May Be Liable to Injured Third Parties

In an important decision, Maryland’s highest state court held that a social host who illegally allows alcohol to be consumed by an underage person on his or her property owes a duty to another person injured as a result. In Kiriakos v. Phillips (Md. July 5, 2016), the Court of Appeals of Maryland reviewed two separate cases involving underage people drinking alcohol on an adult’s property and then leaving the property in a motor vehicle. In both cases, the victims brought a negligence claim against the adult property owners.

In Kiriakos, the plaintiff was walking her dog when she was hit on the sidewalk by a truck driven by a teenager, causing her life-threatening injuries. The teenager had been drinking alcohol provided by the defendant at the defendant’s house the prior evening. The teenager drove home early the next morning with a blood alcohol level of .08 at the time of the accident. The plaintiff brought suit against the defendant, alleging that he owed a duty to the public in general not to provide alcohol to someone underage with knowledge that the underage person would drive under the influence. The lower courts found that no liability existed, and the plaintiff subsequently appealed.

On appeal, the court ultimately held that, although Maryland has not recognized social host liability to third persons, there exists a limited form of social host liability in negligence based on the strong public policy reflected by Maryland statute § 10–117(b), which prohibits adults from allowing underage drinking on their property. However, liability only exists when the adults in question act knowingly and willfully, as required by the statute. The court went on to explain that its holding is consistent with the factors used to determine whether a duty exists under common law, such as the foreseeability of harm to the plaintiff, the closeness of the connection between the defendant’s conduct and the injury suffered, the moral blame attached to the defendant’s conduct, the policy of preventing future harm, and others.

The court also addressed causation, explaining that the underage person’s decision to drink does not constitute an intervening act necessary to break the chain of proximate causation, nor does it insulate one who provides alcohol to minors from liability for ensuing harm. In Kiriakos, the court specifically ruled that a jury could find that causation existed based on the facts of the case, including that the plaintiff’s injuries were a result of the teenager’s drunk driving. The defendant could have anticipated the teenager’s negligent act because his substantial consumption of alcohol and the likelihood of his driving were apparent to the defendant, and the accident occurred within an hour after the teenager left the defendant’s house.

In summary, the court applied the public policy underlying CR § 10–117(b) in both cases, which signifies that underage persons are not solely responsible for drinking alcohol on an adult’s property because they are not competent to handle the effects of this potentially dangerous substance. As a result, the court concluded that social hosts cannot avail themselves of the adage in Hatfield that a person’s decision to drink is the sole cause of injuries arising from his intoxication.

A car accident attorney can represent accident victims in lawsuits against negligent parties in order to seek compensation for their injuries. The Maryland personal injury attorneys at Foran & Foran, P.A. provide aggressive representation to plaintiffs involved in slip and fall accidents, car crashes, medical malpractice, and more. To discuss your injury case with one of our knowledgeable lawyers, call Foran & Foran, P.A. at (301) 441-2022 or contact us online.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Court of Special Appeals Dismisses Negligence Action Against Adult Who Allowed Underage Drinking at Her Residence, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published September 30, 2015

Maryland Court of Special Appeals Affirms Summary Judgment in Slip and Fall Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published July 15, 2015

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