Q: “As the holiday approaches, my son is coming home from college. He is 19 and I am concerned about him and his friends drinking and driving. He has asked me whether he can host a keg party at our house, promising that no one will drive who has been drinking. I know that they are going to drink and I would prefer that it is done where I can keep an eye on things. What is the law regarding parents hosting chaperoned parties such as this?”
A: I am glad you had the good judgment to ask this question. Many parents just want to be cool and have their kids party safely at home. While your intentions may be good, they are indeed misplaced and unlawful, thereby exposing you to administrative, criminal and civil liability.
First is the issue of where the keg would be coming from. If you provide alcohol to a minor (under the age of 21), you are guilty of a crime. Pursuant to California Business and Professions Code Section 25658, every person who sells, furnishes or gives any alcoholic beverage to any person under 21 years of age is guilty of a misdemeanor.
Moreover, should a minor drinking alcohol furnished by you be injured or cause injury to another, you can be held civilly liable for significant damages.
Social hosts, people who serve drinks in their home, are generally free from liability to people injured by those whom they have served liquor to.
However, in 2010, the California Legislature passed the Teen Alcohol Safety Act, which arose out of the tragic death of Shelby Allen, who, at age 17, died of alcohol poisoning while drinking at a friend’s house while her parents were home.
Allen died after drinking 15 shots of vodka. Her friends placed her near a toilet and left her until morning, when she was found dead with a .33 blood alcohol content. California Civil Code 1714(d) now states that a parent, guardian or another adult who knowingly furnishes alcoholic beverages at his or her residence to a person whom he or she knows, or should have known, to be under 21 years of age, may be found to be the proximate cause of resulting injuries or death to that person or another harmed by that person. Therefore, they may be sued for all damages and losses sustained by either the drinker, or a third-party victim, including punitive damages in certain circumstances.
At the time of Allen’s death, the law immunized all social hosts who provided alcohol to guests from immunity caused to, or by, those guests as a result of their intoxication. When Allen’s parents sought a lawyer to assist them in finding out what had happened and to try and find accountability, they were told there was no legal recourse. They came to the Consumer Attorneys of California looking for someone to help create a law that would hold adults responsible for harms caused to and by minors to whom they furnish alcohol.
I am proud to say that I was the president of CAOC at the time and testified on behalf of, and helped pass, this law. Take a moment and do an Internet search for Shelby Allen, and see how such an evening turned fatal. Carl, give Shelby’s rules to your son (alcohol + unconscious = 911).
In addition to the above legal authority, your local community, like many, has enacted a Social Host Accountability Ordinance (Mill Valley Municipal Code Section 8.72) that prohibits loud or unruly gatherings where alcohol is served, consumed by or in possession of underage persons.
Violation of the ordinance is punishable by a fine of $750 for the first violation, $850 for the second and $1,000 for each violation thereafter. Even if you are not home and your child hosts a party that is deemed to be loud and unruly where alcohol is involved, you and the minor are jointly liable for the fine. If the police have to return to a party that they have shut down or issued a noise warning to, the people responsible for the event will be liable for the cost of providing the public-safety response.
So, Carl, instead of providing a place for your kid to drink safely, I suggest that you provide a place where the kids can gather and not drink, or take them to a nice dinner. Help them see that alcohol is not necessary for a good time. It will be safer for everyone and ultimately cost you, and everyone else, less in the long run.
Christopher B. Dolan is owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.