In several previous posts, we’ve covered the topic of drunk driving:
the issues faced by those who have been accused of
DWI or other traffic violations. But what about the issues faced by the people
who served alcohol to the driver? Many Americans are unfamiliar with the
term “dram shop liability,” but it’s an important concept
for bar owners, staff and patrons. Recently, the Maryland Court of Appeals
came to a decision on this controversial issue.
Dram shop liability is the idea that a bar can be responsible for the actions
of the patrons, even after they’ve left the establishment. In states
that enforce dram shop liability, if a bar “overserves” a
customer to the point that he or she becomes “visibly intoxicated,”
the bar then becomes partially responsible for any illegal actions the
patron conducts thereafter. Often, this law is invoked in conjunction
with drunk driving accidents.
Proponents of dram shop liability say that by overserving a customer, bars
can create a dangerous situation that would not have existed otherwise.
Opponents to dram shop liability laws say that it is unreasonable for
a bar owner to be held responsible for the free-will decisions made by
a patron outside the establishment.
Maryland is one of seven states currently without dram shop liability laws,
and the recent Court of Appeals decision reaffirmed that stance. The case
revolved around a man who was served a great number of drinks one night
at a Gaithersburg bar in August of 2008. Staff members eventually cut
the man off and offered to call him a cab. The man refused and drove away.
A short time later, he struck another vehicle, killing one of the occupants.
The victim’s family asserted that the bar allowed the man to drink
too much alcohol before cutting him off. The Court of Appeals disagreed,
however, and sided with the bar owner, stating that he had no responsibility
for his customer’s actions.
In the aftermath of a drunk driving accident, people can sometimes find
themselves facing unexpected accusations. Liability is a complex legal
topic that must be applied differently in every case; those facing such
charges should be sure to contact an attorney for assistance with their