Are You Liable Following An Underage Drinking Party At Your Home?
Recently, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that a teenager who had hosted an underage drinking party, but did not supply alcohol, could not be held civilly liable if one of the guests were hurt.
The case involved a 16-year old girl who was seriously injured in a car accident after she left a party at the home of a 19-year old girl. The 16-year old girl was seriously injured when the car driven by her boyfriend, who also attended the party, was involved in an accident. Both of them had drank alcohol at the party, however, the boyfriend had bought the alcohol and brought it to the party. The 19-year old girl's father and owner of the home was not home at the time of the party. The injured girls parents sued the 19-year old party host.
The Plaintiff was seeking to expand the state's Social Host Liability Law by creating a "duty of care" to an underage party host who does not supply the alcohol, but does provide a place where teens are permitted to drink. The court said that a social host is liable only when the host serves alcohol or controls the supply of alcohol. The Court therefore rejected the Plaintiff's attempts to expand the law and put an even greater burden on homeowners and parents with teenaged children.
Several Massachusetts cases have previously held that individuals should be held responsible for their own voluntary consumption of alcohol, even if they are too young to legally purchase and consume the alcohol. The Massachusetts cases that have established this precedent are; Sampson v. MacDougall, which established that a social host owes no duty to an underage drinker that injures himself; Panagakos v. Walsh, which held that an underage drinker is responsible for his own actions; and Hamilton v. Ganias, which states a lack of duty because of voluntary consumption.
Despite the recent and previous case rulings, one should be reminded that there are penalties for furnishing or serving alcohol to underage guests. General Law Chapter 138, § 34 provides a fine of up to $2,000.00, imprisonment for up to a year, or both.