Previously, Maryland law did not recognize a cause of action for social host liability for adults or minors and only had criminal penalties imposing fines for furnishing alcohol to minors, or allowing minors to consume alcohol on their premises. Any person who violates Maryland’s drinking statute is “guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction is subject to: (1) a fine not exceeding $2,500 for a first offense; or (2) a fine not exceeding $5,000 for a second or subsequent offense.” This meant even if an adult knowingly allowed minors to drink at their homes and one of those minors left and injured themselves or another, the adult could only face a small fine.
Although there have been a number of cases that have raised the issue of whether social hosts should be civilly liable in Maryland, two cases have greatly impacted the law regarding social host civil liability. In Davis v. Stapf, an intoxicated minor got into the bed of a pickup truck driven by another intoxicated guest of the party and was killed on his way home. His mother, Nancy Davis, sought to hold the adult host, Ms. Staph, civilly liable because she was home, knew minors were drinking, and let them drive. Similarly, in Kiriakos v. Phillips, a minor, who was drinking at his friend Brandon Phillips’ house, an adult, left in the early hours and struck Manal Kiriakos while walking her dogs, causing life-threatening injuries. The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland denied relief to both parties, however, the Court of Appeals of Maryland granted their writs of certiorari.
Decided together on July 5, 2016, Maryland’s highest court reversed and remanded both cases and held that adults who host underage parties can be civilly liable for injuries caused by or suffered by the intoxicated guest. The court held that because section 10-117 is founded on principles of public policy, adults who allow minors to drink on their property, who subsequently go on to injure themselves or others, may owe a civil duty to the persons injured. The court reasoned that underage drinkers cannot be solely responsible for their actions because they are unaware of the dangerous effects of drinking alcohol. This new form of limited social host liability adopted by Maryland is a huge step. For years, courts have refused to recognize a cause of action for social host liability, reasoning that it was the minor’s intoxication that was the cause for any such injuries. Additionally, given its relatedness to dram shop laws, it will be interesting to see if Maryland changes those laws in the near future.
Kayla DiNuccio is a third-year day student at the University of Baltimore. She serves as a Staff Editor of the UB Law Forum. Her legal interests include Personal Injury Law, and Family Law. She can be reached at Kayla.DiNuccio@ubalt.edu or you could visit her LinkedIn.