ANNAPOLIS, Md., July 6, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- Adults who "willfully and knowingly" provide alcohol to underage drinkers may now be held liable in civil court for injuries or deaths caused by these young people as a result of their intoxication, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday, July 5th.
In a nod to research on teenage brains, the court also ruled unanimously that adults may not defend themselves by claiming the underage drinker should bear responsibility because they chose to drink.
"This is a groundbreaking opinion. The Court of Appeals recognized what we all know – individuals who are underage lack the judgment and competence to decide whether to drink. Why is that? Because their brains are not fully developed. Credible science backs that up," said Adam P. Janet, of Janet, Jenner & Suggs, LLC, who argued the case on behalf of plaintiff Manal Kiriakos.
"One statistic that makes this clear is that 25% of intoxicated drivers who die are underage. This is a statistic that doesn't lie," he added.
Brain Research Shows Adults Must Take Responsibility
Research has shown that teenage brains are "structurally and functionally different" than brains of children or adults, and "are not capable of handling the more dangerous elements this world offers," the court's opinion stated.
An adult who provides young people with alcohol "increases the risk of harm to others," the court said. "The adult may then be subject to a duty to a third person depending on the circumstances," it added.
Ruling Reverses Lower Court Decision
The ruling reversed a lower court decision in the case of Kiriakos v. Phillips. Mrs. Kiriakos, 48, was walking her dog on the sidewalk when she was struck by an SUV driven by Shetmiyah Robinson, 18. Robinson had been drinking at the home of Brandon Phillips, 26. Kiriakos, who had sustained serious injuries, sued Phillips in Baltimore Circuit Court. She lost, however, the court noting that "Maryland does not recognize social host liability."
Ruling Affects More than Parents
"This ruling is about much more than parents having parties and serving alcohol to teens. In our case, the adult was an acquaintance, not a parent, who gave the underage person alcohol. Although Robinson was 18 and therefore not a minor, he was still underage at 21 in terms of drinking," noted Jason B. Penn, of Janet, Jenner & Suggs, LLC, and one of Kiriakos' attorneys.
About Janet, Jenner & Suggs
Janet, Jenner & Suggs, LLC, is a national firm that focuses its practice on catastrophic injury, wrongful death, medical malpractice – especially birth injury and cerebral palsy cases – and dangerous drug and medical device litigation. The firm has consistently been named one of the top in the nation by its peers, as reported in U.S. News and World Report and Best Lawyers®, and holds the highest ranking for professionalism and ethics.
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SOURCE Janet, Jenner & Suggs, LLC