Estate files suit to hold Deale bar liable in death Patron was in crash minutes after leaving

November 28, 1991|By Michael J. Clark

A $13 million civil suit filed yesterday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court against a Deale restaurant and bar is seeking to break new legal ground in Maryland.

The issue is whether a bar can be held liable for civil damages if evidence shows it served an intoxicated patron who subsequently became involved in a fatal auto accident.

Howard Duncan of Laurel filed the suit yesterday on behalf of his late son's estate.

The suit claims the young man, Kevin Michael Duncan, 24, was served alcoholic beverages at the Happy Harbor Inn in Deale on Dec. 2, 1989, even though he had become "visibly intoxicated."

The younger Mr. Duncan, a Churchton resident, left the bar at 10 p.m. The suit says he died a few minutes later, after his car went out of control on Nutwell Sudley Road in Lothian and struck an embankment.

The suit accuses the Happy Harbor Inn of "gross and wanton negligence" in serving Kevin Duncan "numerous alcoholic beverages . . . over a short period of time."

AThose drinks, the suit contends, resulted in him having "at least a blood-alcohol content . . . of .15 at the time of his death." The state limit for legal intoxication is .10 blood-alcohol content.

The Duncan estate also is petitioning for a declaratory judgment on whether the suit has standing in view of a 1981 Maryland Court of Appeals ruling that tavern owners have no civil liability in such cases.

Joel Abramson, the attorney for Mr. Duncan and his son's estate, argued that "this rule of no civil liability in Maryland is antiquated, anachronistic and does not reflect the changes in our society with respect to punishing those who promote drinking and driving without regard to the consequences that may follow."

He said Maryland is just one of six states that have taken a position that tavern owners are free of civil liability in serving a visibly intoxicated patron.

Mr. Abramson said an Aug. 28 opinion by the state Court of Special Appeals -- though not overturning the no-liability precedent -- "predicted the time has now come for the courts to review their law of no civil liability in these types of cases."

Mr. Abramson said a Montgomery County civil case addressing the same issue is now on appeal.

Named as a defendant along with the Happy Harbor Inn is Levi Thomas Wellons 3rd, who is identified as the establishment's owner.

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