Maryland Court of Special Appeals Dismisses Negligence Action Against Adult Who Allowed Underage Drinking at Her Residence

The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland recently issued an opinion regarding a negligence action brought by the mother of a deceased minor against a host who allowed minors to consume alcohol at her home. The circuit court granted the defendant-host’s motion to dismiss the negligence claim, holding that no legal cause of action existed against the defendant, and the plaintiff appealed.

In Davis v. Stapf, Md. Ct. Sp. App. (2015), the defendant purchased alcohol for high school classmates of her son to consume at a party in the defendant’s home. The plaintiff alleged that, despite the defendant’s actual knowledge that they were intoxicated, the defendant allowed a partygoer to leave the party with the plaintiff’s son in his truck. Shortly after leaving the defendant’s residence, the driver crashed the truck, killing the plaintiff’s son. The defendant was charged with allowing underage persons to drink alcohol in violation of CL § 10-117(b).

To prevail on a negligence claim, the plaintiff must show that the defendant was under a duty to protect the victim from injury, the defendant breached that duty, the victim suffered an injury, and the injury proximately resulted from the defendant’s breach of the duty. A breach of a statutory duty is considered evidence of negligence only if (1) the victim was a member of the class of persons the statute was designed to protect, (2) the injury suffered was the type the statute was designed to prevent, and (3) the violation of the statute was the proximate cause of the injury sustained.

In Davis, the plaintiff argued that the defendant had a statutory duty to her son pursuant to CL § 10-117(b), and the defendant violated that duty by allowing him and other underage minors to consume alcohol in her home. The Court of Special Appeals agreed that the deceased was a member of the specific class that CL § 10-117(b) is designed to protect, and the harm he suffered is of the kind the statute is intended to prevent. Thus, the court found that the defendant did have a statutory duty to the deceased, which was breached under the facts alleged in the plaintiff’s complaint. However, with regard to the third prong, Maryland courts have consistently held that under the common law, social hosts or other providers of alcohol are not liable for the civil torts of intoxicated guests due to the lack of proximate cause.

The court also disagreed with the plaintiff’s assertion that the defendant assumed a duty to prevent harm to the decedent, since the defendant did not affirmatively act to protect the decedent in this case but merely acquiesced to underage drinking in her home. The court did not decide the issue of whether a special relationship is created between an adult who knowingly allows a minor to drink alcohol in her home and that minor, due to the lack of proximate causation previously discussed.

Essentially, Davis reinforces the Court of Appeals precedent regarding proximate cause as preempting a valid cause of action against a host providing alcohol to guests. The court therefore puts the issue of civil liability on the Maryland legislature to enact a statutory cause of action against social hosts and vendors of alcoholic beverages in these cases.

The Maryland attorneys at Foran & Foran, P.A. provide experienced legal representation for plaintiffs pursing compensation in negligence and wrongful death claims, including cases involving car crashes, medical malpractice, and other accidents. To discuss your situation with our knowledgeable attorneys, contact us at (301) 441-2022 or online.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Court Allows Plaintiff to Bring Wrongful Death Suit Based on Same Conduct as Prior Personal Injury Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published August 21, 2015

Maryland Court of Special Appeals Rules for Student’s Family in Wrongful Death Pedestrian Accident Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published July 15, 2015

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