Earlier this month the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that parents who allow underage drinking on their property could now face civil suits if the underage drinker hurts themselves or someone else. The ruling came as a result of two similar cases, both involving underage drinking and car accidents.
The first involved the death of a 17-year-old, who left a party where he had gotten drunk the night before and was riding home in the bed of a friend’s pickup truck. The driver, who was 22-years-old at the time, got into an auto accident resulting in the young man’s death. His mother sued the owner of the home where the party was held.
The second involved a woman being struck by a vehicle driven by an 18-year-old who had been drinking at the home of a co-worker. The woman was walking her dogs when she was hit, resulting in severe injuries that require spinal surgery.
It has been a crime for an adult to knowingly allow underage drinking at their home for the last 20 years, since 1996 when the Maryland General Assembly enacted CR & 10-117 (b). The law states that “an adult may not knowingly and willfully allow an individual under the age of 21 years actually to possess or consume an alcoholic beverage at a residence […] and in which the adult resides.” However, the court has been wary of extending liability to a knowing adult for the actions of an intoxicated individual under 21 outside of the adult’s residence.
The Court states clearly in the conclusion of their ruling, “adults are responsible criminally for underage drinking on their property. […] Depending on the circumstances, an adult who violates this statute may owe a civil duty to persons injured as a result of such drinking, including the underage persons consuming the alcohol.”
Auto accidents including drunk driving are one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., and young drivers do not have enough experience on the road already. Adding alcohol into the mix is a recipe for disaster that could lead to litigation for any parent allowing the consumption of alcohol on their property.
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