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Should Bars be Responsible for the Actions of their Customers?
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February 18, 2013
In 2008, a drunk driver hit a jeep on Interstate 270, killing Jazimen Warr, a 10 year old girl who was in the back seat. The driver, Michael Eaton, is now serving time for manslaughter, and the Warr family says the Gaithersburg bar that served him is also responsible. The Warrs sued the Dogfish Head Alehouse for over $3 million dollars.
The Court of Appeals is slated to hear arguments next month about whether the bar can be held liable. If so, it would be a first in Maryland: we are one of seven states without any so-called “dram shop laws,” which can hold bars responsible for the actions of their customers. “Dram shop” is an old term for a barroom. Other states without laws are Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, Nevada, South Dakota, and Virginia.
Both the courts and the legislature have upheld Maryland’s lack of dram-shop liability—the court most recently in 2000, in a case argued before the Court of Special Appeals, and the legislature last year, when a bill to establish dram-shop liability died in the House Judiciary committee.
We talk about how these laws works with Jim Mosher, a public health attorney who specializes in alcohol policy. He is advising the Centers for Disease Control on their dram-shop law recommendations. We had also hoped to include the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association in this conversation. They oppose dram shop laws--but did not want to speak on the record with the case pending before the Court of Appeals.
You can read the Centers for Disease Control's community guide and recommendations on dram shop laws here.