Linda Stapf owned a home in Clarksville, Maryland, and had a teenaged son. On November 28, 2009, Ms. Stapf allowed her son to host a party in her garage. Her son invited several of his friends, including 17 year-old Steven Dankos, 22 year-old David Erdman, and other minors. Ms. Stapf not only allowed the partygoers to drink, but actually provided them with alcohol. And even though Ms. Stapf knew that Mr. Erdman and Steven had been drinking for hours, in the middle of the night she allowed Mr. Erdman to drive away in his truck, with another young man in the passenger seat and Steven sitting in the truck bed. Mr. Erdman promptly crashed the truck; Steven was ejected from the trunk bed and killed.
Steven’s mother brought a lawsuit against Ms. Stapf, arguing that Ms. Stapf had a duty to protect young Steven, and not provide alcohol to the party-goers. In particular, Steven’s mother argued that Steven was young, vulnerable, and too drunk (thanks to Ms. Stapf) to know not to get into a truck operated by a man who was also drunk because of Ms. Stapf. Unfortunately, the trial court dismissed the case. And in August of 2015, Maryland’s intermediate appellate court, the Court of Special Appeals, affirmed this decision, in the case of Davis v. Stapf.
Maryland generally holds that when one person serves alcohol to another person who then drives drunk and hurts someone, the server of the alcohol cannot be held accountable. Unfortunately, the Davis v. Stapf decision is a continuation of that trend. However, there is still a chance that Maryland’s high court will reverse this decision, and recognize that sometimes – particularly when it comes to underage drinking – the person who serves alcohol does bear some responsibility for the harm that follows as a result.