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What is social host liability?

If you are a Maryland resident with teenaged children, you should be aware that Maryland has a social host liability law under which you are held responsible if you allow your teenager to host a party in your home and you know that alcoholic beverages will be available. If one of the underage guests becomes intoxicated and then has an accident while driving home that injures or kills someone, you could be sued and required to pay damages to the victim or his or her family.

As The Washington Post reported in July 2016, the Maryland Court of Appeals handed down two decisions holding that adults are responsible for underage drinkers’ actions when they host teenagers in their homes. It was the first time that the Court of Appeals had officially recognized Maryland’s social host liability law.

The Court’s decisions

According to the Court’s decisions, youth under the age of 21 are incompetent to make responsible decisions concerning alcohol consumption. You, as an adult, are. Admittedly, you must “willfully” and “knowingly” furnish the alcohol to be held liable. However, all this means is that you must know that it is there. Whether or not you or your teenager actually serves the drinks, and whether or not you are actually there when the alcohol is consumed, you are responsible for what happens afterward.

Your liability does not extend only to underage drinkers who get behind the wheel. It encompasses others as well. In one of the cases heard by the Court, the plaintiff was the mother of a teenager who became intoxicated in the defendant’s garage. After the party, he climbed into a pickup’s bed for the ride home. The underage driver, another party guest who also was drunk, crashed the pickup, killing the plaintiff’s son.

Possible criminal liability

You could be criminally charged as well as civilly sued if you permit underage drinking in your home. Subsequent to the Court's decisions, the Maryland Legislature passed a bill stiffening the fines and jail sentences faced by adults who provide underage drinkers with alcohol. This is general information only and is not intended to provide legal advice.

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