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Supreme Court: Underage Party Hosts May Be Liable For Actions Of Intoxicated Minors

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Parents and would-be party hosts beware: The California Supreme Court has ruled that an underage host who changes admission to a house party may be liable if an intoxicated, under-age party-goer kills or injures another person.

Teenage house parties are nothing new.  But with this ruling, parents should be even more vigilant when leaving their teenagers home alone.  The Court’s decision expands civil liability, established by the Legislature in 2010, for “a parent, guardian or another adult who knowingly furnishes alcoholic beverages at his or her residence to a person under 21 years of age,” when injury or death results, regardless of whether the young person was visibly drunk when served an alcoholic drink.

Under the Supreme Court’s decision in Ennabe v. Manosa, that liability now extends even further to underage hosts who charge admission fees and serve intoxicated minors at their residences, and to both adult and under-21 social hosts who collect fees and serve intoxicated young people at parties at facilities outside their homes.

The court found that collecting an entry fee for a party with alcohol is akin to a nightclub, making the host responsible for continuing to serve drinks to obviously intoxicated minors.

While the Supreme Court was clearly sending a message in hopes of deterring unsupervised parties where alcohol is served to minors, the opinion is not a total departure from existing law, said Gagen McCoy civil litigation attorney Richard Raines, who represents both plaintiffs and defendants in such matters.

“The law already imposes liability where a seller of alcohol provides same to an obviously intoxicated person, whether the imbiber is an adult or a minor,” Raines said.  “The issue in Ennabe was whether or not the charging of an admission fee at a private home made the host a ‘seller’ of alcohol (with the consequence that he/she is liable for serving an obviously intoxicated person) or a ‘social host’ (who is NOT liable for the same conduct). Nevertheless, the concept that homeowners/parents may be personally liable for what occurs at their home even when they are away is a worthy warning.”

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