Hosting Underage Parties Liability

If you or a loved one was injured or killed by an intoxicated person who was served at a teen party, you may have a claim for substantial compensation.

What is a Social Host?

Teen Party ArrestSocial host is distinct from an owner of a restaurant or other commercial establishment that serves alcohol for a fee.  In Massachusetts, a social host is someone who serves alcohol to another person with whom he or she has no particular relationship without charging a fee and provides a house, room or other setting where the alcohol is served.  The setting can be a home, hotel room, car or boat over which the host has control. What makes such an activity significant is that it confers liability on the host should a person who was served alcohol harms someone while at the party or was under the influence leaving the party and operates a motor vehicle that causes an accident that seriously injuries or kills someone.  The issue is compounded if there is a teen party and an accident occurs where an underage driver is involved. In a case like this, consulting with an experienced host liability attorney is essential to assess your risk and possible exposure to criminal and civil liability regarding a teen party accident.

Responsibility of the Social Host

Your responsibility as a social host is not unlike that imposed on bar or restaurant owners under dram shop liability. If alcohol is served at your party, it is your responsibility to see that your guests do not become intoxicated and drive home since it is foreseeable that an accident will happen and that someone might get hurt.  If you are hosting a teen party, it is against the law to serve alcohol to minors and under Massachusetts law, you can be charged with a crime. Social host liability can even be imposed regardless if you were clear that no minor was to be served alcohol.  If you have alcohol in your house and a teen has or is able to gain access to it, you will probably be held civilly liable if an accident occurs since you had control over the situation and a reasonable person would have known that teen guests would be drinking.

The law may also impose liability on you if you tacitly gave permission to your child to drink by allowing him or her to attend someone else’s party where you knew or even suspected that alcohol was being served.  You might escape civil liability, however, if you did not have any alcohol in your house or other setting but it was clandestinely brought in by the guests and drunk without your knowledge. It is possible, though, that if you were aware of the teen’s intoxicated behavior but permitted the teen or other guest to drive anyway, you could still be held liable in the event of an injury accident. If for some reason you decide to charge your guests for drinking, then dram shop liability may well be imposed on you, meaning that your responsibility over your guests is even stricter. Accidents at parties can also result from raucous behavior or a slip and fall.  As a private property owner, your duty to your guests is to repair any known defects or hazardous conditions in your home or to warn them of the hazard.  You do not have a duty to regularly inspect your property but if you have a defective stair or step or know that your deck is unstable and still allow people to use it, your liability may be clear.

Are You Insured?

Most homeowner’s and renter policies will cover accidents that occur on your property as a result of a your negligent behavior resulting in injury to others.  However, such a policy may not offer coverage if the homeowner is charged with a crime. Homeowners are advised to examine their homeowner’s policy and to purchase umbrella coverage. If your teen wants a party, consider having it at a hotel or other setting over which you have no ownership or control and put the onus on someone else to be responsible for stopping drinking.  Otherwise, take precautions such as taking the keys of every teen guest upon their arrival and do not return them unless you are assured they are sober and safe to drive.

Damages in a Teen Party Accident Case

You are entitled to damages from the social host if you were injured by someone who became intoxicated at a party for which the host assumed responsibility and caused your injuries, or who was allowed to leave the host home or setting while impaired and caused an injury accident. These damages include:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Pain and suffering
  • Psychological trauma
  • Spousal claim for loss of consortium
  • Punitive damages in fatal accidents if there was gross negligence

If death occurred, the decedent’s administrator could bring a wrongful death claim on behalf of the immediate family members for medical costs, loss of financial support from the deceased, funeral expenses and loss of love, support and companionship.  Pain and suffering in wrongful death claims is only awarded if the decedent was conscious for a time before succumbing.  In some cases where a fatality occurred, you may collect punitive damages if the social host’s behavior was grossly negligent in allowing drinking.  These damages are not generally covered by the homeowner’s insurance policy. Call Host Liability Law Firm Burns & Jain for a free consultation.