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Court Holds That Even If It Recognized Maritime Dram Shop Liability, Plaintiff’s Complaint Did Not Support Such A Claim

Vollmar v. O.C. Seacrets, Inc.
No. MJG-11-772 (D. Md., December 20, 2011)

by Colleen K. O’Brien, Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (

This action arose when Plaintiff was injured on a boat operated by Defendant Shepard, after Shepard became intoxicated at Seacrets in Ocean City. A Seacrets water taxi (the TIPSY III), took Shepard, as well as nine or ten other passengers, to his boat, moored in the Assawoman Bay. Later on, Plaintiff took the Seacrets’ water taxi to Shepard’s boat as well. Sometime after 1:00 a.m., while operating the boat, Shepard allided with the cement pilings of a bridge on the Isle of Wight Bay, and allegedly caused injuries to Plaintiff.

Plaintiff sued Seacrets for Negligence (under both Maryland common law and admiralty law), Civil Conspiracy, and Maritime Dram Shop Liability, and Seacrets moved to dismiss.

As to negligence, the Court noted that maritime negligence and Maryland common law negligence are essentially the same. The Court found that Seacrets’ duty to Vollmar was to exercise ordinary care to avoid putting Plaintiff in a dangerous situation when delivering her to Shepard’s boat; however, Seacrets did not violate this duty, as there were no allegations that the TIPSY III operators observed Shepard visibly intoxicated, or that the water taxi operators should have known that Shepard would operate the boat after being dropped off there with a large group of people.

In addition, the Court found that Plaintiff failed to meet her burden for proximate cause, due to intervening and superceding causes. To the Court, where Plaintiff observed Shepard being conspicuously intoxicated and did not attempt to leave the boat, and further, acquiesced to Shepard’s operation of the boat, these intervening causes defeated proximate cause.

Plaintiff’s general maritime dram shop liability claim also failed. The Court noted that federal courts have disagreed whether maritime dram shop law exists. Where courts have recognized it, it requires the consumption of alcohol aboard a vessel, not on land. Here, the Plaintiff had made no allegation of any consumption of alcohol aboard the TIPSY III—rather, she alleged that the alcohol had been consumed on land, at Seacrets. Because there was no allegation of consumption of alcohol on the water taxi, Plaintiff’s maritime dram shop liability allegation also failed.

Therefore, the Court granted Seacrets’ Motion to Dismiss.