New Case Makes Adults Liable for Injuries Caused by Intoxicated Minors

We know that it is illegal for minors to drink. When a minor is allowed to drink and then causes an injury, are the adults who allowed the minor to drink and drive responsible for any injuries the minor causes? A Maryland appellate court has recently ruled on this question.

Minor Allowed to Drink and Drive

The case involved underage minors drinking at a house party. The mother at the house knew there was alcohol being served, but according to the case, she never asked them to stop drinking. At one point, a partygoer approached the mother about her brother being able to drive while intoxicated, but the mother did not stop him from leaving. It appears that the mother did not check on the minor’s condition, and let him drive away from the premises intoxicated.

The boy drove off in a truck, with another 17-year old partygoer in the truck bed. When the truck crashed, the 17-year old was ejected and killed.

A lawsuit ensued, where the parents of the deceased boy sued the mother. The case was dismissed by the lower court, and was appealed.

Is the Mother Liable?

The appellate court noted that it is certainly a crime for an adult to allow someone underage to consume alcohol. The law is intended to protect underage people from alcohol exposure. But that does not mean there is a case for negligence.

The court then addressed proximate cause—that is, did the mother’s allowing the child to drive drunk cause the death of the minor that was riding in the truck bed?

Injuries can be caused by multiple actions, but when they are, the question is whether the act of the negligent defendant was a substantial factor in the victim’s injury. A court will look at whether an injury is a foreseeable result of a negligent act.

There is law in Maryland that says that there is no relationship between someone who sells liquor and negligence caused by someone who buys or drinks it. But those cases were before Maryland enacted its underage drinking laws. Thus, the court reasoned, there was a legislative decision to treat this situation differently.

The Court reasoned that underage people are legally (and often practically) unable to care for themselves or make wise decisions on their own. Thus, the minor’s decision to drink in this case did not mean that the parent’s allowing him to drive drunk was too distant to have caused the accident, and the Court allowed the case to proceed against the mother.

Of course, the issue of whether the mother’s actions caused the injury will be left to a jury. Because the case was originally dismissed before trial, the appellate court’s decision simply sends the case back for a full trial. Still, the decision indicates a shift in the law, potentially holding those who allow minors to drink and drive to be responsible for the injuries those minors cause.

If you are injured by a drunk driver, there may be many parties responsible. Contact the accident attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss the handling of any automobile accident injury issues.