Landmark Case: Underage Drinking & Social Host Liability

Landmark Case: Underage Drinking & Social Host Liability

Permitting Underage Drinking Just Became More Costly
For the last two decades in Maryland, it has been considered a crime for adults to allow underage drinking in their homes. But, in the past, the Court of Appeals has been reluctant to hold third parties (such as bar owners) legally accountable for intoxicated people’s actions. However, on July 5th, the highest court in the state of Maryland reversed and remanded two civil lawsuits pertaining to the extent to which adults who allow underage drinking on their property should be liable for injuries caused by that youth’s intoxication.

Adults Who Allow Underage Drinking in Their Homes Now Face Civil Lawsuits in Addition to Criminal Charges

Speaking for the majority, the honorable Judge Adkins stated that teen brains are so structurally different from adults over the age of 21, that they cannot be solely responsible for injuries they sustain or cause due to the effects of alcohol. The Court found that adults who allowed minors to drink in their homes should bear some responsibility subsequent accidents. (Manal Kiriakos v. Brandon Phillips, No. 55, Nancy Dankos, et al. v. Linda Stapf, No. 20, Md. App.; 2016 Md. LEXIS 430).


In the case of Dankos v. Stapf, the high court found that Ms. Stapf was aware that her 17-year-old son and his underage friends were drinking alcohol during a party in her home. Steven Dankos, 17, left the party and was lying down in a pick-up truck being driven by another partygoer, David Erdman, 22, when the truck crashed. Dankos was ejected from the truck and killed.


Dankos’ mother, Nancy, filed a survival action in the Circuit Court for Howard County, alleging breach of duty to act, negligence, and common-law social host liability. Ms. Dankos’ alleged that her son would not have accepted a ride home from another drunken partygoer had he been sober and that Stapf had contributed to the crash by allowing underage drinking in her home. At trial it was determined that Erdman’s sister, Kelsey, approached Stapf with her concerns about her brother driving while intoxicated, yet Stapf did nothing to stop him. Stapf moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim and the trial court granted the motion. Stapf received a fine and an order to attend a victim impact panel – the maximum penalty at the time. Dankos’ mother appealed the case and The Court of Special Appeals upheld the dismissal.


In the case of Manal Kiriakos v. Brandon Phillips, the Court found that Brandon Phillips, 26, was also aware that 18-year-old Shetmiyah Robinson was drinking alcohol in his home. Robinson left Phillips home in his SUV and struck Manal Kiriakos causing her life-threatening injuries. Kiriakos sued Robinson and Phillips in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, alleging breach of duty.


At trial it was determined that Phillips knew that Robinson had too much to drink and even stated to Robinson to “watch what he’s drinking.” Phillips offered to let Robinson sleep at his home, but said Robinson decided to wait for the effects of the alcohol to wear off and left around 5 a.m.


Kiriakos sued Robinson and Philips in the Baltimore County Circuit Court, and claimed that Philips owed a general duty to the public not to provide alcohol to an underage drinker. Philips moved for summary judgment and argued that Maryland did not recognize social host liability for serving alcohol. The Circuit Court granted the motion, and the Court of Special Appeals affirmed.


The Court reasoned that based on the strong public policy evident in CR § 10- 117(b), social host can be found liable if they act knowingly and willfully. The Highest Court found that Stapf owed a duty of care to Dankos arising from her alleged violation of the rule and that Dankos’ mother could maintain her negligence claim. The Highest Court also found that Philips acts and omissions established a negligence claim and that by providing alcohol to an underage drinker, he could be held liable.


The Highest Court reasoned that Robinson’s drunk driving directly resulted in injuries to Kiriakos. It found that Phillips should have anticipated that Robinson would drive after ingesting a substantial amount of alcohol.


These two landmark cases resulted in Maryland extending civil responsibility beyond the confines of those directly involved in alcohol-related accidents. The new drinking status-quo in Maryland supports the notion that party hosts will be held legally accountable for any accidents arising as a result of underage drinking.


Attorney Fred. L Coover, Esquire has been handling civil litigation matters for over 30 years. Coover Law Firm, LLC serves clients in Howard County, Maryland and beyond, including Columbia, Ellicott City, Fulton, Elkridge, Clarksville, Glenwood, Glenelg, Sykesville and more. Contact us today at (410) 995-1100 to schedule your free 30-minute consultation in our Columbia, Maryland office. 


Disclaimer: The information in this blog post is provided for general educational & informational purposes only. It is not intended to convey legal advice or serve as a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter.