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Know the Law

by The Publishers
January 25, 2019

The social host law. You are never "safe" from liability if you furnish alcohol to persons under 21. Allowing someone underage to drink is not worth the risk.

FAQ’S

Can I be sued if my child or a teenage guest at my home drinks alcohol and harms another person? Yes. Under the principle of social host liability, you can be held financially responsible if your guest harms or kills another person after having consumed alcohol at your home.

Why should I be liable for the criminal or negligent acts of my guests? If my guest kills or injures someone in a drunk driving accident after drinking in my home, why should that be my problem? If your guest was under age 21 and you allowed him to consume alcohol, you committed a crime. Violation of a criminal statute is powerful evidence that you were negligent. There is no good reason to allow anyone under 21 to drink alcohol. If your guest was an adult who was visibly impaired, you were negligent if you permitted him to drink alcohol at your home. There is no good reason to serve any impaired guest more alcohol.

One of my underage twins is in college and the other is in the military. What’s wrong with serving alcohol to them and their friends in the safety of our home if their friend’s parents give permission? The legal drinking age in Massachusetts is 21. It is against the law for you to serve alcohol to underage guests or to allow them to consume alcohol in your home. You could also be civilly liable for their acts if they injure or kill someone else after drinking at your home. Parents who gave permission for their underage child to drink alcohol could also be civilly liable. I do not keep alcohol in my home and my child does not drink.

If I allow her to have a party when I’m not home and she allows friends to bring alcohol and drink it, might she or I be liable for injuries her friends cause to another person? Your child may be charged criminally for allowing minors to drink alcohol at your home. If you do not give permission to your child to allow drinking at your home, you might not be civilly liable. Even if you claim that you did not know your child’s guests would be drinking, it may still be up to a jury to decide whether you are civilly liable.

Will my insurance policy cover a judgment against me as a social host? It might, but your coverage will most likely not be enough to pay the judgment. If you are also charged criminally, then it is possible that your policy will not cover the civil judgment.

If my guest caused the injury and we both get sued, why should I have to pay? Under the principle of joint and several liability, if two or more parties are civilly liable, then any one of them may be required to pay the entire amount of the judgment. If an underage guest who drinks alcohol at your home injures or kills someone, you and that guest could be sued and found liable. You could be forced to pay the entire judgment if the underage guest cannot afford to pay. Recent judgments in these cases have been over $1,000,000.

 If someone gets a judgment against me as a social host and I later declare bankruptcy, will I have to pay it? A drunk driver who is ordered to pay a civil judgment cannot avoid paying by declaring bankruptcy. It is possible a social host can avoid paying a civil judgment if he is bankrupt, but there is a growing trend to prevent this from happening.

Glossary of Terms

Social host: An adult or juvenile who is in control of premises and who serves alcohol or allows it to be consumed on those premises.

Social host liability: You can be held financially responsible if your child or guest injures or kills another person after you permit your child or guest to drink alcohol in your home or other property you control.

Underage: The legal drinking age in Massachusetts and every other state is 21. Someone under 21 cannot legally drink alcohol.

Liable: Criminally responsible (meaning that you might be ordered to pay a fine or serve a prison term) or civilly responsible (meaning that you might be ordered to pay for injuries to or for the death of another, and other related costs).

Negligence: Failure to do what is required; carelessness; inattention. You are negligent if you permit an impaired and/or underage guest(s) to drink alcohol at your home. The civil law holds you liable because the likelihood of your impaired or underage guest(s) injuring or killing a third person is so great.

Bottom Line: The legal drinking age in Massachusetts and every other state is 21. It is against the law to serve or provide alcohol to underage guests or to allow them to drink alcohol in your home or on other property you control. If you do, you may be prosecuted criminally. The penalty is a fine up to $2,000, imprisonment for up to a year, or both. G.L. c.138, sec. 34.

 

 

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