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Maryland Court of Appeals finds bar not liable for drunk driver

The Maryland Court of Appeals has narrowly rejected a claim that the Gaithersburg bar that served a drunk driver should be held liable for the accident that killed a 10-year-old girl. The decision is a disappointment to anti-drunk-driving activists who hoped that Maryland would join the 43 states and the District of Columbia that allow bars and restaurants to be held responsible for the actions of customers involved in drunk driving accidents. These laws have been shown to reduce auto fatalities by up to 11 percent.

The court voted four to three to uphold the Maryland law that keeps vendors from being held liable for injuries caused by customers after leaving their establishments. Advocates are hoping that the egregiousness of this case and the closeness of the decision will spur the state legislature to take action to change the law.

After this 2008 tragedy, Maryland Delegate Kathleen Dumais submitted a bill to make vendors liable for continuing to serve customers who were clearly drunk. Although it died in committee, in part due to the influence of the powerful restaurant and insurance lobbies, Dumais plans to re-introduce the bill next year.

Although the driver in this case was sentenced to eight years in prison after pleading guilty to vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident, the bar, Dogfish Head Alehouse, was not penalized. Deposition testimony in the civil case, however, told the story of what happened. The driver testified that he was in a drunken blackout when he rear-ended the car on I-270 that night. He claimed no memory of leaving the bar, and came to while fleeing the scene of the accident. Bar employees testified that they did not think he was drunk when he left. However, his waitress stop serving him after 17 bottles of beer and a shot of vodka when he became argumentative, and a manager tried unsuccessfully to let the man call him a taxi.

As noted, in most states, there are situations in which bars and restaurants can be held responsible for drunk-driving accidents, along with the driver. Anyone who has been injured in an accident as the result of a drunk driver should consult a personal injury lawyer to help ensure that you are fairly compensated or all images, damages, and pain and suffering.

The Washington Post, “Maryland case shows bars should be liable for drunk patrons” Robert McCartney, Jul. 31, 2013