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The "Social Host Liability": Parents Now Civilly Liable for Accidents of Minors Permitted to Drink at Home

In our society, it is understood that actions bring about consequences, both good and bad. Sometimes, we may be found criminally and/or civilly liable for how our actions influence the conduct of others, even if we were not the bad actors. When it comes to drinking and driving, many states have been hesitant to blame the bartender for drunken driver’s misconduct and the ultimate consequences that arise from getting behind the wheel drunk. Bartender liability, most commonly known as Dram Shop laws, are hitting Maryland’s Legislative floor as recently as December 2015, but currently, dram shop laws are not applicable in Maryland. However, lawmakers have just decided that when it comes to minors in Maryland, it is a different story.

Court of Appeals: Civil Damages Now Available for Parents of Underage Drinkers

According to the Baltimore Sun, Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, recently released a ruling that would include civil damages and penalties to parents who knowingly let minors drink alcohol on their property and that later drink, drive, and get into an accident. Though Maryland has been hesitant to apply liability to bartenders, it has held for the last 20 years that when children are involved, parents can be criminally liable for any accident that occurs as a result of their permission to minors to drink on their property. This is known as “social host liability.” The new ruling, which will include civil liability into the list of punishments, will hopefully have the effect of deterring parents further from permitting underage drinking on their property.

Why Children and Parents are Different than Clients and Bartenders

The reason the Court of Appeals has found liability to attach when children are involved is due largely to the fact that children, teenagers in particular, are still in the process of maturing and lack judgment and rationality. It has been proven throughout several studies and acknowledged in court that when it comes to teenagers, there is special leniency due to the fact that they are not fully grown up and may not realize the consequences of their action. Adults that are in a capacity to supervise their minors understand the consequences of drinking and driving. In other words, it is foreseeable to a reasonable person that permitting your minor to drink (or even buying them alcohol to drink) could lead them to possibly driving after the party is over.

Limitations of the New Ruling

The law does make the distinction that the parent must be complicit in the minor’s drinking. The criminal law, as well as the Court, both understand the distinction made in the law that the parent must be knowingly and willfully allowing the minor to drink. This would mean that if a minor snuck into the house with alcohol and with his or her friends, and then proceeded to get drunk outside the knowledge of the parents, criminal or civil liability would not extend to the parents in the event that the minor got into an accident after visiting the party. The law also makes the distinction that parents will not be criminally or civilly responsible if they let their minor drink while in the presence of the family members, such as providing wine for religious purposes at a religious event.

Charles County, MD Personal Injury Lawyers that Fight for You

If your teen has been involved in an automobile accident, please call the Law Office of Robert R. Castro at (301) 804-2312 for a confidential consultation.

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