Maryland Considers Bar Liability in Drunk Driving Crashes

DUI crash attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm report that Maryland, one of only eight states that have not adopted a version of a dram shop law, has recently re-considered implementing the legislation. Similar efforts in the past two years failed to make it out of the Maryland House Judiciary Committee.

This re-consideration is spearheaded by the family of ten-year-old Jazimen Warr, who was killed in a crash caused by a drunk driver in 2008. The driver, Michael Eaton, had 17 beers along with several other alcoholic drinks before he left a tavern in Gaithersburg. As Jazimen slept on her sister’s shoulder in the back of the family’s SUV, Eaton slammed his Range Rover in to their vehicle at an estimated 98 miles per hour. Fortunately, the other members of the vehicle sustained only injuries.

Now, the Warr family is seeking the right to sue the Gaithersburg tavern for the part it played in the accident that killed the young girl. Her grandparents are expected to ask Maryland’s highest court soon for the ability to continue with their $3.25 million lawsuit against the tavern, Dogfish Head Alehouse.

The Dogfish Alehouse is fighting back, however, saying it could not have controlled Eaton’s actions once he left the premises. It is saying that being held liable for this fatal crash will raise its insurance premiums, forcing it to raise prices for customers and causing it to potentially lose some or all of its business.

Many Maryland bar and restaurant owners say there are measures already in place to cut off patrons who are overly-intoxicated, and bartenders do try to prevent those customers from driving. They say it is extremely hard to control anyone’s behavior, much less someone who is intoxicated, and should not be held responsible for those who make the wrong decisions.

Just a few decades ago, less than half of states had dram shop laws in place. Over the course of those years, however, drunk driving has come under extreme scrutiny, as advocates against the previously tolerated practice have become more vocal. Harsher and harsher penalties are emerging nationwide – many states now require ignition interlock devices, and sobriety checkpoints are becoming increasingly common.

On that day in 2008, Eaton reportedly left the scene of the crash but surrendered to the police 24 hours later. In 2009, he pled guilty to manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident. He was sentenced to eight years in prison. A civil lawsuit against him settled for $100,000.

Currently, bars and restaurants in Maryland can be sued for criminal charges for continuing to serve clearly intoxicated patrons but cannot be charged with a civil case. The Maryland Association for Justice has come out in support of the Warr’s, and filed a brief with the court in which it stated that some of the costs suffered by victims of drunk drivers should be shifted to the businesses that profit from those alcohol sales.

The Association cited a significant 2011 review, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, which concluded that, once states adopted a dram shop law, alcohol-related traffic fatalities dropped by about 11%. According to data by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, alcohol was a causative factor in at least 22% of all crash costs in Maryland in 1999.

Dram shop laws provide a deterrent, giving alcohol distributers an incentive to develop responsible policies and to train employees to keep their eyes open and refuse to over-serve patrons. Car accident lawyers can help victims of alcohol-related accidents determine if a dram shop violation played any part of the crash.

Auto accident attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm understand how devastating alcohol-related crashes can be, and have decades of experience advocating for these victims and their families. If you or someone you love was seriously injured in an accident caused by an intoxicated driver, you have important legal rights, and may be entitled to compensation.