Third-Party Liability in Maryland Drunk Driving Accidents

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a car accident case involving a plaintiff’s attempt to hold a bar responsible for the actions of a drunk driver under the theory that the bar was negligent in serving the at-fault driver to the point of intoxication. Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiff presented sufficient evidence of the establishment’s negligence for a jury to hear the case.

The case presents an interesting and developing issue under Maryland personal injury law in that, prior to 2016, third parties could not be held liable for serving alcohol to someone who later went on to cause a car accident. However, in a landmark case, the Court of Appeals of Maryland held that an accident victim can hold those responsible who served a minor alcohol if it contributed to a subsequent drunk driving accident.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was rear-ended while driving with her two children. The driver who rear-ended her was determined to be under the influence of alcohol. That driver was cited for driving under the influence. As it turns out, the driver was returning from a work event at a local bar. After the accident, the woman reported feeling “buzzed” to police. The officer noted that the woman had bloodshot, watery eyes and slurred speech.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the bar, claiming that it was negligent in serving the woman to the point of intoxication. The court’s opinion indicates that the woman had three drinks over the course of four hours, and she had eaten only appetizers while at the bar. The woman denied taking any shots of hard liquor or ordering any other drinks.

The Court’s Decision

In the jurisdiction where the case arose, the relevant standard was whether the person who served a customer “knew or should have known the person was intoxicated … or would become intoxicated.” The trial court rejected the plaintiff’s claim, finding insufficient evidence that the establishment knew or should have known the woman was intoxicated.

The case was reversed on appeal, however, with the court finding that the plaintiff presented enough evidence to give rise to a material question of fact as to whether the bar should have known the woman was intoxicated. The court pointed out that a jury would be free to disbelieve the woman’s testimony regarding how many drinks she had and that the police officer’s observations seemed to indicate that the woman was visibly intoxicated.

As noted above, Maryland law does not yet permit this type of claim to proceed. As Maryland law currently stands, social hosts who serve minors alcohol can be held responsible for those minors’ actions. That being said, the law is constantly evolving, and additional avenues of recovery may arise in the future.

Have You Been Injured by a Maryland Drunk Driver?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Maryland drunk driving accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the accident, there may be more than one liable party. To learn more, and to speak with a dedicated Maryland personal injury attorney about your case, call 410-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation with an attorney today.

More Blog Posts:

Court Discusses Plaintiff’s Duty to Preserve Evidence in Recent Car Accident Case, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published April 3, 2018.

Court Discusses Government Immunity as It Pertains to the Placement of Road Signs, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published April 17, 2018.

Contact Information