ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — Parents who host teenage drinking parties could be in even more trouble if someone gets hurt. This week, Maryland’s highest court ruled parents are liable if they know underage drinking is happening in their house. That could lead to major lawsuits, WJZ’s Meghan McCorkell reports.
Pictures are now all Nancy Dankos has left of her son, Steven.
“It’s been six years since Steven passed. But to a mom, it’s yesterday,” said Dankos.
In 2009, 17-year-old Steven was drinking at a friend’s house party when he jumped in the bed of a pickup truck. The drunk driver crashed, and Steven was killed.
Investigators learned a mother was at home at that party and allowed the teens to drink.
“You’ve got to be kidding me. Because she did know that he had been drinking, the driver, and she didn’t do anything to stop him,” said Dankos.
The mother only received a citation, so Dankos filed a lawsuit against her that went all the way to Maryland’s highest court.
In a unanimous ruling this week, the appeals court found adults are liable, writing: “Underage persons are not solely responsible for drinking alcohol on an adult’s property because they are not competent to handle the effect of this potentially dangerous substance.”
Defense attorney Adam Ruther says the case could have big implications.
“It could be enormous. And I think from a policy consideration, it was intended to be a deterrent from adults giving alcohol to minors,” said Ruther.
In 2014, nearly 200 passengers between the ages of 15 and 20 died in a crash with a drunk driver behind the wheel.
As for Dankos, she says fighting for her son kept her strong.
“I believe he had his hand in this. Like I said, I just couldn’t give up on him,” she said.
The lawsuit was randomly given the case number 55 when it was transferred to the appeals court. Dankos took it as a good sign — that was her son’s jersey number in football.
Just this year, the General Assembly passed a bill that could result in jail time for adults who knowingly provide alcohol to teens who get in a drunk driving crash.