Adults facing potential liability in these cases cannot defend themselves by arguing that the underage person was contributorily negligent by having consumed the alcohol, the Court of Appeals said.
The high court’s ruling marked the first time it has recognized the potential liability of party hosts for the alcohol-related harm caused by their guests under the legal drinking age of 21.
The Court of Appeals based its landmark decision on a Maryland criminal law that makes it illegal to serve alcohol to underage individuals outside of immediate family or a religious service.
Section 10-117(b) of the Criminal Article, with its goal of protecting youngsters from the evils of alcohol, intrinsically contains a civil cause of action for people harmed by the adult who violated the law by permitting the underage drinking, the court said.
“[W]e hold that there exists a limited form of social host liability sounding in negligence – based on the strong public policy reflected in CR Section 10-117(b), but that it only exists when the adults in question act knowingly and willfully, as required by the statute,” Judge Sally D. Adkins wrote for the court.
“We view CR Section 10-177(b) as a recognition by the General Assembly, based on convincing evidence, that children under 21 are often less able to make responsible decisions regarding the consumption of alcohol and, as a result, are more susceptible to harming themselves or others when presented with the opportunity to drink in excess in a social, peer-pressured setting,” Adkins added. “It therefore carved out that specific class for special protection against adult social hosts who knowingly and willfully allow consumption of alcoholic beverages on their property.”
The Court of Appeals’ decision revived two lawsuits victims of drunken-driving incidents brought against adults who hosted parties leading to the underage intoxication.
Nancy Dankos’ claims her 17-year-old son, if sober, would not have accepted a ride in the back of a pickup drunk from a drunk partygoer at Linda Stapf’s Ellicott City home. When the truck crashed, Steven was thrown from the back of the vehicle and killed.
In the other lawsuit, Manal Kariakos suffered fractured vertebrae and a lacerated kidney when she was struck in Cockeysville by drunk driver Shetmiyah Robinson, an 18 year-old who had allegedly been served vodka shots by Brandon Phillips.
‘Alex and Calvin’s Law’The high court’s decision follows the General Assembly’s strengthening last session of the criminal law by permitting adults to be jailed for up to one year for knowingly and willfully providing alcohol to or hosting drinking parties attended by those under age 21 who become impaired and seriously injure themselves or others in driving from the event.
The amendment, dubbed “Alex and Calvin’s Law,” was spurred by the deaths of two recent high school graduates who were killed in a drunken-driving crash after attending an underage drinking party. Supporters of the legislation called it obscene that the adult who hosted the party, Kenneth Saltzman, was merely assessed a $5,000 fine and faced no potential jail time under current law.
Alex and Calvin’s Law, which Gov. Larry Hogan signed May 19, goes into effect Oct. 1.
The Court of Appeals rendered its decision in the consolidated cases, Manal Kariakos v. Brandon Phillips and Nancy Dankos et al. v Linda Stapf, Nos. 20 and 55, September Term 2015.