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Understanding social host liability

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As a California parent with teenaged children, you may have allowed your child to attend a friend's party or two, or even hosted a party in your own home. While it is true that having the kids at your house keeps your teenagers safe from driving home afterward, you should think twice before allowing underage kids to drink alcoholic beverages at your home. California has a social host liability law that holds you responsible if any of them becomes drunk and injures himself, herself or anyone else during or after the party.

Under Section 1714 of the California Civil Code, not only is underage drinking illegal, but the consumption of alcoholic beverages by someone under the age of 21 is deemed the proximate cause of any injury that (s)he suffers or inflicts upon someone else after consumption. Section 1714 allows the following people to sue you:

  • The injured underage person himself or herself
  • Someone on behalf of the injured underage person
  • Any other injured person or someone on his or her behalf

    Underage drinking; adult responsibility

    Neither you nor your teenager has to serve the drinks. The fact that alcohol is availableto underage party guests is sufficient to establish your liability. In other words, you do not even need to be home during the party. While your teenager is the actual social host, under the law, that hosting is imputed to you as the responsible adult. If you know or reasonably should know that the kids have the opportunity to drink, it is your responsibility to see that they do not. For instance, if you keep your adult beverages in the refrigerator or unlocked cabinets, it is foreseeable that the teenagers will raid your "stash."

    All states, California included, believe that teenagers do not possess the requisite judgment to make mature decisions about their own drinking and the possible consequences thereof. In addition, it is common knowledge that teenage parties can get out of hand. Uninvited guests often hear about the party via text messages and show up at your door with alcohol in hand.

    While it is understandable that your teenager would prefer to host an unchaperoned party, it is your responsibility as the adult parent to have a serious discussion with him or her as to why you cannot consent to this. You might try explaining that you simply intend to get him or her "off the hook" in case uninvited guests show up with alcohol. You will be the "bad guy" who refuses them entry. You also might try explaining that having to pay thousands of dollars in damages to someone who sues you for personal injury or wrongful death is no more in your teenager's best interests than it is in yours.

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