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Adults Who Provide alcohol to Underage Drinkers in Maryland Can be Held Civilly Liable for the Consequences

December 27, 2016 By Peggy E. Vetter

The Court of Appeals recently held that adults who provide alcohol to underage drinkers can be held civilly liable for any harm or death that results as a consequence. This marks the first time Maryland’s highest court has recognized what is known as “social host liability.” In order to be held culpable, the adults in question must “knowingly” and wilfully” furnish alcohol to someone under 21. The Court’s decision comes after Maryland’s General Assembly struggled with how to toughen criminal penalties for adults who host underage drinking parties.  

In Kiriakos v. Phillips and Dankos v. Stapf, the Court addressed two cases in which underage people drank alcohol on an adult’s property, and then left the property in a motor vehicle. In both cases, the consumption of alcohol was done with the knowledge and consent of the adult property owner.

In the Dankos case, 17-year-old Steven Dankos became intoxicated during a party at Linda Stapf’s house. There was evidence to show that Stapf came home to find a party taking place, but permitted underage kids to continue drinking. Dankos got in the bed of a pickup truck with another intoxicated partygoer driving. The truck crashed, killing Dankos.

In the Kiriakos case, 18-year-old Robinson had been drinking at the home of Brandon Phillips, an adult. Phillips himself mixed the teen’s drinks. Robinson, driving a large SUV, struck Kiriakos, who was walking her dog, causing her life-threatening injuries.     

In reaching its decision, the Court stated that people under 21 are less able to make responsible decisions regarding alcohol. Adults facing potential liability in these cases cannot argue that the underage drinker was contributorily negligent in having consumed the alcohol.

The Court of Appeals based its decision on a Maryland criminal law. Namely, Section 10-117(b) of the Criminal Law Article, which states that “an adult may not knowingly and willfully allow an individual under the age of 21 years actually to possess or consume an alcoholic beverage at a residence, or within the curtilage of a residence that the adult owns or leases and in which the adult resides.”

The lesson to be learned here? Parents who allow underage kids to drink in their homes – who then get behind the wheel – will have to pay the price.