Dram Shop laws make an establishment or person that continues to serve alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person legally liable if that intoxicated person injures or kills someone. This is different from social host liability, which holds that adults who provide alcohol to underage drinkers can be held civilly liable if the underage drinkers later harm someone else while intoxicated.
Currently, 43 states and DC have some form of a dram shop law. The states without any such law are Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, South Dakota and Virginia. Note that Maryland does have a social host law that was created in 2016.
In recent years, the Maryland legislature tried to create a dram shop law. This was in response to the August 2008 death of 10-year-old Jazimen Warr. Michael Eaton, who had been drinking at the Dogfish Head Alehouse in Gaithersburg, Maryland, slammed into the vehicle in which Jazimen was a passenger. It’s estimated that Eaton was driving between 88 to 98 mph when he struck the Warr vehicle. Jazimen, who was a passenger in the back seat, was killed.
Jazimen’s family filed suit against a number of defendants, including Dogfish Head Alehouse. Dogfish Head Alehouse was eventually let out of the lawsuit when its motion for summary judgment was granted. The trial court was bound by the case law in Maryland, which held that dram shop liability was not a recognized cause of action in Maryland. The case went on appeal all the way to Maryland’s highest court. In 2013 the Court of Appeals held in a 4-3 decision, that it would not overturn established case law in Maryland and would not create a dram shop law.
In 2011, Maryland legislator, Kathleen Dumais introduced a bill to create a statutory dram shop law, but the bill did not pass. There was discussion by Dumais in 2016 that she would re-introduce this same bill, but it’s not clear if she ever did or not.
Proponents of dram shop laws say that these types of laws can limit the number of drunk drivers by creating an incentive for bars and restaurants to cut off patrons that they feel are intoxicated and increase publicity surrounding the over-serving of patrons. Additionally, it allows injured parties and their families to have another source of possible financial recovery by creating possible exposure to the insurance carriers of restaurants and bars that have been sued.
Opponents of these types of laws argue that by removing the personal responsibility component, the financial burden is shifted to bars and restaurants, including the possibility of higher insurance premiums.
Judge Adkins, who wrote a very strong dissent in the opinion in Warr case was the author of the majority opinion that created social host liability. In many ways, the progression from social host liability to dram shop laws seems to be the next natural step and it unlikely that this issue won’t come up again in Maryland.