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08/23/2016

Court of Appeals Finds Limited Social Host Liability Exists in Maryland

Nancy Dankos, the mother of the deceased victim of a drunk driver and Manal Kiriakos, the injured victim of a drunk driver each brought suit against the adult who hosted the underage drinking party that allegedly led to each accident.  Nancy Dankos' son, Stephen, then 17, fatefully accepted a ride in the bed of a pickup truck from an intoxicated attendee of a party hosted by Linda Stapf.  Stephen was killed when the truck crashed and he was thrown from the back of the vehicle.  Dankos argues that her son would never have accepted a ride from an inebriated individual had he been sober at the time.

In the simultaneous lawsuit, Manal Kiriakos suffered serious injuries when she was struck by Shetmiyah Robinson, an 18-year old who had been served vodka shots by defendant Brandon Phillips.  Kiriakos had been walking her dogs on Scott Adam Road in Cockeysville when Robinson drifted out of his lane and collided with her.  Kiriakos was thrown 70 feet and suffered a fractured vertebrae and a lacerated kidney as a result.  In both instances, the adult host had provided alcohol to underage partygoers and neither took steps to prevent intoxication or mitigate resulting dangers, such as drunk driving.

In both cases, the local trial court dismissed the respective suit holding that Maryland law did not allow for civil suits against social hosts.  The Court of Special Appeals affirmed the trial court's findings in each case.  Both litigants sought further review from the Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals of Maryland decided that adults hosting underage drinking may be held liable for alcohol-related harm caused by their guests who are under the legal drinking age.  In the consolidated cases, Manal Kiriakos v. Brandon Phillips and Nancy Dankos et al. v. Linda Stapf, the Court unanimously held that an adult who "knowingly and willfully" hosts an underage drinking party can be held civilly liable for the death or injuries sustained or caused by an intoxicated attendee.

The Court of Appeals' decision follows the General Assembly's adoption of "Alex and Calvin's Law," an amendment named for two recent high school graduates killed by a drunk driver who had attended an underage drinking party.  Alex and Calvin's Law was supported by those who found it unconscionable that Kenneth Saltzman, the adult who hosted the party, was given a mere $5,000 fine and faced no jail time under the then-current law.  The new amendment permits adults to be jailed for up to one year for knowingly and willfully providing alcohol to or hosting drinking parties attended by those under age 21 who become impaired and seriously injure themselves or others in driving from the event.  Alex and Calvin's Law, signed by Governor Hogan on May 19, takes effect October 1, and did not address civil liability.

The Court of Appeals' decision, coupled with the General Assembly's amendment, show a clear inclination in Maryland law towards increased adult responsibility - both criminal and civil - for underage drinking.  The Court of Appeals remanded both cases back to the trial courts for further proceedings.