Should a bar be held liable for drunk driving accidents if they serve a customer who then is involved in an accident? The Maryland Court of Appeals heard arguments on Tuesday on this issue. For the past 32 years, Maryland law, known as a “dram shop” law, has prevented victims of drunk driving accidents and their families from recovering damages from the very bars that served the alcohol to the soon to be drunk driver. The Court of Appeals now stands in a position to change this law.
As you would expect, Bar and Restaurant owners oppose any change to this law, as such a change could put them directly in the crosshairs of drunk driving victims and plaintiff’s lawyers. Their argument is that each person is responsible for their own actions and they are not liable for what a drunk customer does after they leave the bar. However, the law would not hold the bar responsible simply because a customer caused a drunk driving accident after they left the bar. Changing the law would only remove the absolute ban on trying to recover damages from the bar.
The main question is whether the bar should be held responsible if they allow their staff to continue to serve alcohol to customers who are visibily drunk and who then cause an accident.
The law as it stands right now, in its most simple form, prevents the victims of drunk driving accidents from recovering anything from the bar, regardless of how irresponsible their employees are in serving alcohol to drunk customers. Changing the law would allow victims to sue the bar, but would not guarantee that the bar would be held responsible. The victim would still have to prove that the bar should have stopped serving the customer, and the bar would still be able to present evidence that they had no way of knowing what the possible danger was of continuing to serve the customer.
In my opinion, a law that provides absolute protection to a bar for drunk driving accidents, regardless of how irresponsible they and their employees are, by getting already drunk customers even more drunk and then allowing them out onto the streets, is not a fair law. Changing the law to say that IF a bar knowingly helps a drunk customer get more drunk and then that customer causes an accident, the victim CAN sue the bar and MIGHT recover damages IF they can PROVE the bar was irresponsible, seems like a fair law. But, like I said, that is just my opinion.
- Md. Court To Consider Whether Bars Can Be Held Responsible For Actions Of Drunk Customers (baltimore.cbslocal.com)
- Are bars responsible for drunk patrons? (abc2news.com)
- Md. Court Weighs Liability of Bars in DUI Cases (washington.cbslocal.com)