As previously discussed in this space, Maryland’s highest Court in a recent opinion called Kiriakos v. Phillips recognized that adults who violate a criminal statute that prohibits knowingly allowing underage drinkers to get intoxicated on their property may be sued civilly for injuries caused by that consumption of alcohol. Maryland’s intermediate appellate Court last week explored the limits of the Court of Appeal’s recent decision, in a new case called Hansberger v. Smith.
The Court of Special Appeal’s opinion involves two “field parties” at farms in Frederick County. Travis Riley advertised a party on Facebook, which was a bring your own beverage party, and dozens of underage drinkers attended the party. Riley’s parents had no knowledge of the invitation, and Mrs. Riley had specifically told her son previously not to have a party. Neither Travis nor the Riley’s supplied alcohol, the party was 300 yards from the parents’ home and they did not even know about it until Travis was making everyone leave.
Bradley Smith had attended the Riley party, as did Ronald Lewis and Michael Hansberger. Brandley decided to invite select friends to continue the party at his parents’ farm up the road, but did not invite Lewis or Hansberger. Smith did not tell his parents about the party and did not supply alcohol, but after further underage drinking occurred a fight broke out. Lewis threw a piece of concrete from a broken down silo at Hansberger, seriously injuring him, and later pled guilty to reckless endangerment. Hansberger sued Lewis, as well as the owners or occupiers of the Riley and Smith farms. The trial judge dismissed the cases against the owners, and Hansberger appealed.
The Court of Special Appeals agreed with the trial judge and upheld dismissal of the suits. It reviewed the recent Kiriakos opinion, noting that it was based upon a criminal statute prohibiting with certain exceptions (including serving alcohol to one’s own child) an adult from knowingly and willfully allowing an individual under the age of 21 years to possess or consume an alcoholic beverage at their residence. It noted the rationale that underage drinkers are in the class of persons that this law was designed to protect.
In this case, however, there was no evidence that the owners of the Riley or Smith properties provided alcohol to any minors, or even knew that their sons were going to host a party, so there was no proof that the adults could have willfully violated the statute. Likewise, the Smith owners were held not be liable for the presence of rubble on the property, when the injury was caused by the intentional criminal act of another. This illustrates limitations on the imposition of social host liability for underage drinking.
Thomas Patrick Ryan is a partner in the Rockville law firm of McCarthy Wilson, which specializes in civil litigation.