It’s a pretty common occurrence for parents to host a party where they know that kids will be attending – and drinking – who are under the age of 21. The parents want to let their kids have a good time and have a few drinks. They figure it’s safer to have kids drinking at their home where they can supervise them and try to prevent them from drinking and driving.
What the parents may not realize is that they are exposing themselves to potential civil liability for injuries caused by an underage drinker. What are the potential legal consequences in California for parents who throw a party where alcohol is served to kids who are underage?
1. Parents Can Be Sued for Serving Alcohol to Underage Drinkers That Results in an Injury
Can parents really get sued for throwing an underage drinking party where one of the underage guests injures someone in California? You bet! Parents who serve alcohol to underage drinkers can be sued in a personal injury action if someone is injured. Not only is there liability to third parties who are injured by a drunk underage guest, but they can also be liable to the underage guest if they hurt themselves.
Civil Code § 1714(d)(1) permits a civil claim against a parent, guardian, or other adult who knowingly furnishes alcohol at his or her residence to someone he or she knows, or should have known, to be under 21 years of age, where furnishing alcohol is found to be the proximate cause of resulting injuries or death. End of story. This permits an injured party to file a personal injury lawsuit – and win – against parents who furnish alcohol to underage drinkers at their residence. Civil Code § 1714(d)(2) permits both the underage drinker and any random third party to make a civil recovery for being injured.
The primary example of such liability would be where the parents host a party at their home and serve alcohol where they know that underage kids will be present and they will be served with alcohol. One of the underage drinkers gets intoxicated and then gets behind the wheel of a car. They leave the party, drive under the influence, and cause an accident that seriously injures both the partygoer and someone else. The parents who served the alcohol at their home will be liable and can have a substantial civil judgment entered against them.
Note that the above scenario only involves serving alcohol to underage drinkers. Adults who serve alcohol to other adults at their residence will not be held liable if an adult guest becomes intoxicated and ends up hurting someone. Civil Code § 1714(c) specifically exempts liability where adults are serving alcohol to adults. No liability there.
2. Parents May Also Be Subjected to Criminal Charges for Serving Alcohol to Minors
Parents might also not realize that, in California, it is a crime to furnish alcohol to minors. Business and Professions Code § 25658(a) establishes that serving alcohol to minors is punishable as a misdemeanor.
It is also a separate crime to serve alcohol to minors who subsequently cause great bodily harm or death to themselves or someone else. This crime is set forth under Business and Professions Code 25658(c) and is also a misdemeanor.
So, we’re not only dealing with parents facing civil liability for serving alcohol to minors who cause injuries. Parents also face potential criminal charges.
3. Don’t Rely on Your Homeowners Insurance to Bail You Out
What about homeowners’ insurance? Won’t homeowners’ insurance come to my rescue and settle any civil lawsuits filed against me? No. Homeowners’ insurance is not going to help you out this time.
Homeowners’ insurance generally excludes coverage for damage caused by criminal acts. As we discussed above, serving alcohol to minors is a crime in California. Since it’s a crime, homeowners’ insurance will generally not cover damage claims made relating to serving alcohol to minors.
Where does this leave parents if homeowners’ insurance won’t cover a personal injury lawsuit filed by an injured party? This leaves the parents on their own to defend themselves against the personal injury case. They will need to retain an attorney at their own expense and they will be on the hook for paying any settlement or judgment without the help of insurance. If a judgment is obtained against the parents, their assets will be exposed. They may be subjected to having their wages garnished, their bank accounts levied, and other enforcement actions. This could obviously cause potentially significant financial destruction.
The purpose of this discussion is not to tell parents what they should or should not do. I’m certainly no prude. Parents are adults and can make their own decisions. Parents have to decide how they want to deal with their kids and the extremely challenging issues of underage drinking, as well as drinking and driving. My purpose here is simply to make sure that parents at least understand the potential legal consequences of serving alcohol to minors at their residence if an accident were to occur as a result. I don’t want anybody to be surprised when they get slapped with a lawsuit. Parents have to take it from here.
If you would like to discuss your personal injury case with us, whether it relates to an injury caused by underage drinking or not, feel free to call our San Jose, California office at (408) 637-5413 to schedule a complimentary consultation.