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Md. Court: Bars Are Not Liable For Patrons’ Drunken Accidents

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Gigi Barnett anchors the Weekend Morning Edition with Meteorologist...
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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — Maryland’s highest court rules on deadly DUIs. Bars that serve intoxicated customers are not at fault for what happens on the road.

As Gigi Barnett explains–the ruling stems from a case that killed a ten-year-old.

Prosecutors say Michael Eaton drank 17 beers, several hard drinks and a shot of tequila the night he slammed into the back of an SUV on Interstate 270. The wreck killed a ten-year-old girl.

But Friday, the state’s highest court says the bar that served Eaton is not liable for the accident–even though bartenders continued to serve him and allowed him to get behind the wheel.

“Statements that we have from some of the witnesses are saying that they witnessed the silver Range Rover operating at what they believed to be a high rate of speed. Some of them said in excess of 90 to 100 miles per hour,” police said.

The wreck happened back in August 2008. Since then, a judge sentenced Eaton to eight years behind bars on manslaughter charges.

After the crash, witnesses say Eaton tried to run away.

“He exited the Range Rover, did not render any aid to the people in the Jeep Cherokee and fled on foot,” said police.

And the victim’s grandparents–William and Angela Warr–who were in the car at the time, have been trying to sue the bar that served Eaton.

Nationwide, 43 states and the District of Columbia have laws that make bars somewhat liable when customers walk out too drunk to drive.

Maryland is not on that list. Judges handed down the same decision, which protects bars, back in 1951 and 1981.

Experts say the ball has bounced from the courts to the State House now to change the law. But a similar bill never made it out of committee last year.

Delaware and Virginia also lack laws that make bars liable for DUI accidents.

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