According to an opinion recently issued by the Maryland Court of Appeals – the state’s highest court – adults and parents who provide alcohol to underage kids can be held civilly liable is these same underage kids are injured or they hurt others.
While it is already a criminal offense in Maryland for an adult to “knowingly and willfully allow” someone under the age of 21 to possess or drink alcohol, this is the first time the Court of Appeals has recognized some form of social host liability. Specifically, social host liability is a legal term that refers to situations in which hosts may be sued for personal injury if they provide guests with alcohol, and the guests then injure others.
When reaching its decision, the court noted that underage drinkers are not competent to handle the dangerous effects of alcohol, and therefore the adults that provided the alcohol should be responsible. In fact, in its opinion, the court wrote, “[C]hildren under 21 are often less able to make responsible decisions regarding the consumption of alcohol and, as a result, are more susceptible to harming themselves or others when presented with the opportunity to drink in excess in a social, peer-pressured setting.”
However, it is important to note that this recent opinion only applies to situations in which adults “knowingly and willfully” provide alcohol to minors and/or allow them to consume alcohol of the adult’s property. Given the very narrow application of this decision, it is important to speak to an attorney as soon as possible should you have questions, especially if you or a loved one has been injured because a parent was trying to be “cool” and let kids drink on his or her property.