For Your Family: Graduation parties and laws

May 17, 2010 9:53:46 AM PDT
With the upcoming graduation season, parents of minors who plan on having parties to celebrate graduations and who have children under the age of 21 returning from college need to be aware of the possible civil and criminal liabilities when hosting a party where alcohol is served. The days of the "cool parents" who served alcohol in their homes is gone. In days past, alcohol consumption was seen as a right of passage. Something that parents could turn a blind eye to and let their kids step into the adult world of alcohol use without fear of any negative repercussions. The current civil and criminal laws impose a duty upon ANY person at least 18 years of age who willfully supplies alcoholic liquor or illegal drugs to a person under 18 years of age and causes the impairment of such person. The law commands that that person shall be liable for death or injuries to persons or property caused by the impairment of such person. Civil liabilities include economic damages e.g. medical bills, non economic damages e.g. pain and suffering, attorney's fees and court cost as well as punitive damages.

The civil law, enacted in 2004, was enacted in part due to the horrific video of the May 4, 2003 hazing ritual at a powderpuff football game between junior and senior girls that resulted in five girls being hospitalized and numerous suspensions and expulsions from school. Most questioned the responsibility of the parents in allowing the alcohol use to occur. More were outraged that the parents who allowed the alcohol use that resulted in the alcohol fueled violence had no liability under the law. The result was the law in effect now that imposes strict liability on the adults for providing the alcohol which results in injury. This liability has the potential to subject the adults to millions of dollars in liability if provide access to alcohol to minors in their home.

The current law can also impose criminal sanctions to adults who provide alcohol to minors. The current criminal code subjects a person to up to a year in jail for any parent or guardian to knowingly permit his or her residence to be used by an invitee of the parent's child or the guardian's ward, if the invitee is under the age of 21, in a manner that constitutes a violation of the law. A parent or guardian is deemed to have knowingly permitted his or her residence to be used in violation of the law if he or she knowingly authorizes, enables, or permits consumption of alcoholic liquor by underage invitees. In essence, if a parent knows or should know that kids are drinking in their home, they can be criminally liable. The criminal code further makes the adult liable for a Class 4 felony with prison time of 1-3 years in a State penitentiary if death or great bodily harm are the result of them allowing the minors to drink on their property.

Minors who leave the home intoxicated have the potential to be involved in horrific accidents. Studies show that the human brain does not mature until the 20's. The ability to make rational, sound judgments are affected by alcohol in adults and even more so in teens. Many parents may feel that if the minor makes a bad choice after drinking alcohol at their home this will not result in liability on their behalf. This is untrue. Irresponsible acts by the minors when they leave the home after drinking does not exempt the parents from liability. The law presumes that minors are going to act irresponsibly after drinking alcohol and thus imposes strict liability upon the adult who provided the alcohol.

The bottom line is that parents should be vigilant to not allow alcohol use by minors while they are in their homes. If a parent chooses to serve alcohol at their home, they take on a responsibility to not allow access to that alcohol by minors during the course of their visit.


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