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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Law says patrons, not bars, liable for actions

The question of whether a bar or restaurant can be held liable for the behavior of its patrons is especially interesting in Maryland, one of eight states that does not have what are known as “dram shop” laws.

Dram shop laws pertain to an establishment’s liability  when providing bar service to an obviously intoxicated person or a minor results in a crime or accident. But even if Maryland did have these laws, a club or restaurant still can’t be held liable because a customer, drunk or not, is being obnoxious or even belligerent.

Although the state’s liquor laws do impose on bars and restaurants what’s known as social host liability, that generally relates to the crime of serving minors. But for the most part, this state believes that bar and club patrons are responsible for their own actions.

A bar, for instance, can’t be held liable if Customer A wallops Customer B. Any ensuing legal action in such a circumstance would be up to Customer B and whatever legal steps he or she wants to pursue against the attacker.

Even so, restaurants, bars and almost all other businesses have a duty to keep their premises safe for their guests by maintaining reasonable security. They are obligated to intervene when situations get out of hand, especially when some one threatens the safety of others.

But can they take preemptive action against someone because another individual doesn’t like or fears that person? It can as long as it doesn’t violate the Civil Rights Act.

The question, though, is why would any business do that, especially if it is tantamount to picking a side in a political fight or social disagreement? It just wouldn’t, because the owner is in business to make a living by staying above the fray and having as many customers as possible.

Bars and clubs can and should stop disruptive behavior, keep an  eye on argumentative individuals, and take action when it’s needed. But what no operator can afford to do is have one set of customers dictate who from another set will be allowed to enter.