Maryland High Court Refuses To Adopt Dram Shop Liability

Late last week, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued an important opinion in the case of Warr v. JMGM, in which the Court refused to establish dram shop liability in Maryland. Dram shop liability is a legal theory under which an establishment that sells alcohol can be held liable for serving a knowingly intoxicated patron that later causes injury to another as the result of his or her inebriation. Maryland law grants complete immunity to liquor establishments and is in the minority as forty-fives states currently have some type of dram shop laws on their books.

In Warr, a bar patron drank approximately seventeen beers and several shots of whiskey over six hours on August 21, 2008, at the Dogfish Head Ale House in Gaithersburg, Maryland. At the time he left the establishment, he was heavily intoxicated. A short time later, as he was driving well in excess of the speed limit on Interstate 270, he rear-ended the vehicle of the Warr family. Three members of the Warr family were severely injured and a ten-year-old girl was killed.

The Warr family sued JMGM Group, LLC, owner of the Dogfish Head Alehouse, alleging that the establishment had breached its duty to “not furnish alcohol to intoxicated persons,” proximately causing injury to the Warrs and the death of their child. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of JMGM based upon its argument that dram shop liability was not recognized as a cause of action in Maryland.

The Maryland Court of Appeals granted certiorari and, in a lengthy opinion, affirmed the trial court, holding that it is the role of the Maryland Legislature, not the courts, to adopt dram shop liability and declined to impose a duty upon a tavern to protect the general public, absent a special relationship. The Court concluded that the Legislature “is in a far better position that this Court to gather the empirical data and to make the fact finding necessary to determine what the public policy [regarding dram shop liability] should be.”

Dissenting Judge Sally Adkins recognized that “an average of 220 people died annually as a result of impaired driving-related crashes on Maryland roads” and that 40% of the accidents in Maryland are caused by drunk drivers. Judge Adkins opined that, despite these statistics, the legislature has not taken action to adopt dram shop liability and therefore it was up the Court to do so.

Notwithstanding the Court’s opinion in Warr, an individual that has been injured by the negligent driving of an intoxicated motorist is still entitled to recover from that individual. If you or someone you know has been the victim of a personal injury, you may need legal representation to protect your right to compensation.

The qualified attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience representing individuals who have been injured by the negligent driving of another. If you or someone you know has been injured in a car accident, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.