Some parents of teenagers let their kids and their friends
consume alcohol on their property thinking, “Well, kids are going to drink
anyway, so they’re better off doing it here where they’re safer than doing it
But that kind of thinking is a huge mistake. As a recent
decision from the Maryland Court of Appeals illustrates, the mistake can be
tragic, resulting in significant liability for the homeowner.
The ruling arose from two separate cases that ended up being
In the first case, a 26-year-old homeowner served drinks to
an 18-year-old. The homeowner supposedly knew the minor was intoxicated and
told him he could drive away but not until he felt okay to do so. The driver
waited about six hours, leaving in the early morning and striking and killing a
pedestrian. He had an elevated blood alcohol count at the time of the accident.
The other case involved a woman who came home to find her
underage son having a party with his underage friends. Guests apparently told
the homeowner that a 22-year-old who was about to drive away was intoxicated,
but she did nothing to stop him. A 17-year-old who got drunk at the party was
riding in the back of the 22-year-old’s pickup truck. When he wrecked the
truck, the 17-year-old died.
The court found that the adults in both of the combined
cases could be held responsible for the respective deaths. In reaching its
conclusion, the court pointed to a state criminal law barring adults from
serving alcohol to minors in their home. The panel decided that any adult that
breaks this law is responsible for any harm that ensues, as long as allowing
the consumption of alcohol contributed to that harm.