In the last article we covered criminal liability. In this one we cover civil liability.
Parents serving alcohol to minors may face civil consequences as well based on the doctrine of "social host" liability. As a "social host" parents providing or serving alcohol to any person they know or should know is visibly intoxicated may be held civilly liable if the child - or adult - becomes so impaired that he is injured or causes injury to a third party. While the focus is oftentimes on alcohol-related motor vehicle offenses following house parties, too often parents forget about the other injuries and incidents that may occur. As is commonly known, the effects of alcohol reduce many consumers' inhibitions. The use of even a moderate amount of alcohol may play a factor in unwanted sexual advances and the use of excessive amounts of alcohol is frequently found to be a factor in teenage rapes and sexual assaults. Teenagers who become intoxicated by alcohol may become disoriented, wander away from the house of the party, become lost or placed in danger. A disoriented and confused, inebriated teenager wandering in the woods could drown in even a small pool of water. In these instances, the parents who have procured and provided the alcohol and served underage drinkers expose themselves to civil liability. The time and cost of a legal defense, even if successful, may ruin a family.
Indeed a recent case in Massachusetts found that the automobile exclusion in a Massachusetts homeowner's insurance policy applied in the "social host" context. As a result, parents who served alcohol to a visibly intoxicated minor, who left the party in a car and caused serious injuries to a third person, did not receive coverage from their homeowner's policy. The parents were left to deal with the judgment against them individually and without the benefit of any coverage.
If you have any questions about this article, or other legal issues facing you, please contact the Worcester MA Law firm of Lian Zarrow. We will be happy to assist you.