Ruling Ignores Necessity of Dram Shop Laws in Maryland

Riding in the backseat with her sister, 10-year-old Jazimen Warr of Urbana was out late with her grandparents on August 21, 2008. She was wearing her seatbelt. Unbeknownst to her grandparents, a Range Rover sports utility vehicle was coming up fast behind them on Interstate 270. Too fast. Driving on a suspended Virginia driver license, Michael Dean Eaton rear-ended the Jeep Cherokee carrying Ms. Warr at a speed estimated between 88 and 98 miles per hour. After smashing into the Jeep, Mr. Eaton fled the scene. Ms. Warr died in the hospital that night. Mr. Eaton turned himself in to police the next day. 

Earlier that evening, Mr. Eaton had socialized at the Dogfish Head Ale House in Gaithersburg. Details of his two-hour visit to the tavern included: 

  • Mr. Eaton consumed one appetizer and approximately 21 drinks, including beer and tequila for a bar tab of $107.
  • After becoming rowdy and starting a fight, Mr. Eaton was refused more alcohol.
  • Servers asked Mr. Eaton if they could call him a cab, but Mr. Eaton refused. 

Mr. Eaton pled guilty to vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident and received an eight-year prison sentence. The grandparents of Ms. Warr sued Dogfish Head Ale House in hopes the action would lead the Maryland judiciary to create dram shop liability in Maryland. 

Dram shop laws hold taverns and persons responsible for serving alcoholic beverages to obviously intoxicated patrons. In its ruling, citing the lack of dram shop laws, the court did not hold the Dogfish Head tavern responsible for serving Mr. Eaton alcohol, although his behavior left no doubt he was drunk. The ruling is remarkable for the sound legal reasoning provided by dissenting judges on the case who argue for adoption of dram shop liability in Maryland. 

A 10-year-old girl was killed by a driver served more than 20 drinks in two hours by an establishment that should have known much better. Our state and its citizens deserve better protection. 

If injured because of the negligence of others, seek experienced legal counsel.

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