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Who is legally responsible when a drunk driver takes to the road after leaving a bar?

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Posted On 01.06.12 by in Alcohol Related Arrest

The following news article excerpt featuring co-founding partner Alan Horwitz appears in The Baltimore Examiner. The article is reproduced by permission below. To see how it appears in the Examiner, go to: http://www.examiner.com/courts-in-baltimore/who-is-legally-responsible-when-a-drunk-driver-crashes-after-leaving-a-bar

Who is legally responsible when a drunk driver crashes after leaving a bar?

With the return of the football party season bringing thousands of game day fans into area bars and restaurants across the area, now might be a good time to examine the liability of who is responsible when a drunk driver crashes after leaving a drinking establishment.

“Responsibility for an injury carries a duty to pay for that injury, either with time served (in criminal cases) or through monetary compensation for damages (in civil lawsuits). That’s why establishing liability is so central to personal injury cases,” says Alan Horwitz, co-founding partner of Baltimore’s Ingerman & Horwitz law firm, www.ihlaw.com.

Sometimes, however, establishing that liability – particularly in cases that involve third parties – can be exceptionally difficult. Take, for example, the complaint filed by the guardians of Jazmine Warr against JMGM Group LLC, owner of Dogfish Head Alehouse.

In 2008, Michael D. Eaton crashed into the rear of a jeep carrying William J. Warr, Angela T. Warr, ten-year-old Jazmine Warr, and Jazmine’s 11-year-old half-sister Cortovia Harris. Before crashing into the Warrs’ jeep, the drunk Mr. Eaton was speeding along I-270 at 88 to 99 mph. Jazmine Warr died as the result of crash.
Mr. Eaton was deemed criminally responsible for the automobile accident, and pled guilty to vehicular manslaughter. He is currently serving eight years in prison for his actions. But, Jazmine Warr’s guardians believe someone else should be held liable for the accident as well: JMGM.

According to court evidence, Mr. Eaton was served up to 17 beers and three shots at Dogfish Head Alehouse in Gaithersburg before he got in his car and caused the crash that killed Jazmine Warr. Some of the drinks were purchased on a second tab, which he opened after he was clearly intoxicated. The Warrs filed a wrongful death suit against JMGM in which they claimed that the alehouse should have ceased to serve Mr. Eaton after he became intoxicated.

Their case is similar to many cases filed in states across the country. Currently, there are 37 states in the U.S. that impose liability or limited liability under dram shop laws: laws that hold bars and restaurants responsible for the injuries caused by the irresponsible behavior and actions of patrons who get drunk in their establishments. Maryland, however, is not among the 37. At least, not yet, though cases like the Warrs’ could change that.

Although JMGM isn’t liable for Jazmine Warr’s death under current Maryland law, many legal professionals believe that should change, including Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Eric M. Johnson who sent the case to trial last April. Despite the fact that there is no cause of action for the wrongful death suit under Maryland law, Judge Johnson believes the restaurant/alehouse “should have predicted that the man might drive recklessly and kill or seriously injure someone,” and therefore should be held accountable for the failure to cut off Mr. Eaton.

The case is scheduled to go to trial this fall, though it is likely that the attorneys for the alehouse will file an appeal before then. Regardless of what happens, the Warrs’ case serves as an example of the increasingly heated debate over whether Maryland ought to include dram shop liability laws in the state statutes.

If your loved one has been killed in an automobile accident, you may have cause to file a wrongful death claim.

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