The Maryland Court of Appeals will soon hear arguments in Warr v. JMGM, where the high court will decide whether to establish dram shop liability in Maryland. Dram shop liability holds establishments that serve alcohol liable for serving an intoxicated patron who then causes injury due to their intoxication. Currently, 45 states have some form of dram shop liability, leaving Maryland in a very small minority of states that provide complete immunity to establishments that serve alcohol, no matter how egregious their conduct. As the facts of the Warr case demonstrate, the time for change is now.
The Warr case is tragic, and illustrates why Maryland should join the vast majority of states in imposing dram shop liability. Around 5 p.m. on August 21, 2008, Michael Eaton entered the Dogfish Head Ale House in Gaithersburg, where he was known to the staff as a heavy drinker. Over the course of six hours, Eaton drank approximately 17 bottles of beer as well as several shots of whiskey. Prior to his departure, it was clear that Eaton was heavily intoxicated, and he exhibited aggressive and violent behavior. Around 45 minutes later, Mr. Eaton was on Interstate 270, traveling between 88 and 98 mph in a 55 mph zone when he rear-ended a vehicle carrying the Warr family, killing 10 year old Jazimen Warr. Three other members of the Warr family were also severely injured. Mr. Eaton is now serving a prison sentence for vehicular manslaughter.
In the past, Maryland’s Court of Appeals has refused to adopt dram shop liability based on legal rules of proximate cause that have since been updated to conform with modern principles of tort law. The Court previously viewed the drinking of the liquor by the patron as an intervening event that relieved the bar of liability for the actions taken by the intoxicated person. However, since then the Court has adopted the modern “substantial factor” test which holds that if a party’s conduct is a substantial factor in causing harm then they can be held liable by the injured party. Applying this theory to dram shops, it is clear that when a bar serves a patron who is intoxicated, and then that person causes harm due to their intoxication, the bar has played a substantial factor in causing the harm to the injured party.
The dual goals of the tort system are to compensate injured parties and hold wrongdoers accountable in order to deter harmful conduct. Maryland’s current lack of dram shop liability prevents these goals from being met. Currently, when someone is injured by a person who became intoxicated at a bar the injured person can only seek compensation from the driver, who may not have adequate insurance or assets to cover the harm caused, leaving the injured party without further recourse. Additionally, bars have no deterrence from recklessly over-serving patrons, as they are currently free from liability for injuries caused by doing so. The Court of Appeals has the chance to correct the current situation by imposing dram shop liability on establishments that serve alcohol. Tragic consequences like the case of Jazimen Warr illustrate why this change in the law is long overdue.
Our Maryland injury law firm is not afraid to take on a challenge. Court victories have included the largest slip and fall verdict in Howard County history and the largest wrongful birth verdict in the history of Montgomery County. We have also prevailed in products liability cases against some of the biggest manufacturers in the country. Plaxen & Adler is proud that each claimant receives same respect and care as the largest case in the office. Call us today at 443-472-4864.
The Maryland Court of Appeals will soon hear arguments in Warr v. JMGM, where the high court will decide whether to establish dram shop liability in Maryland. Dram shop liability holds establishments that serve alcohol liable for serving an intoxicated patron who then causes injury due to their intoxication. Currently, 45 states have some form of dram shop liability, leaving Maryland in a very small minority of states that provide complete immunity to establishments that serve a