Each year, more than forty percent of the total number of traffic fatalities are alcohol related. In this country, nearly 17,000 thousand people are killed on an annual basis in accidents caused by drunk drivers.
Sadly, notwithstanding these horrific statistics, Maryland law does not permit a cause of action against a bar owner, restaurant, homeowner or other individual or entity responsible for negligently serving alcohol to individuals who later get behind the wheel of a car and cause serious, and oftentimes catastrophic, injury to others. See Veytsman v. New York Palace, Inc., 170 Md.App. 104, 122 n.11 (2006). Such a claim is known as tavern liability or “dram shop” liability. In fact, Maryland is one of only three states that do not permit such lawsuits. Maryland law also does not allow an injured victim to recover punitive damages in automobile accident cases, even in instances where the driver that caused the injury has consumed excessive quantities of alcohol or other mind-altering drugs. See Komornik v. Sparks, 331 Md. 720 (1993).
A plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer practicing in Maryland should be mindful of the fact that each of the jurisdictions that border Maryland (including the District of Columbia) has adopted dram shop liability. It may be particularly important to consider this fact in instances where the at-fault driver has inadequate insurance coverage. When reviewing a case, an attorney should consider whether a drink driver became intoxicated at an establishment located beyond Maryland’s borders and perform the appropriate choice of law analysis. For example, in such instances, it may be appropriate to file a dram shop claim against the restaurant or bar that over-served alcohol to its patron in that entity’s home state, instead of filing a claim in Maryland. If a lawsuit that potentially presents a dram shop liability claim is hastily filed in Maryland, and the crash occurred in Maryland, Maryland law will most likely apply. If, on the other hand, a tavern owner in the District of Columbia negligently serves alcohol to a patron who later causes an accident in Maryland, it may be possible to hold the tavern owner responsible for the injuries by filing suit in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia. Filing suit in the District of Columbia may be particularly advantageous for an additional reason: there is no cap on non-economic (i.e., pain and suffering) damages like there is in Maryland.
If you or someone you know or love has been injured by the negligence of a drunk driver, you should contact an experienced Maryland plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer for a free consultation.