Hosting a Party Could Become Costly
Recently, the Los Angeles Times wrote on the issue of being a social host and the liability that comes with it, as the Supreme Court of California is expected to issue a ruling on a case dealing with this issue in March.
The case will determine whether young people who host underage drinking parties and charge an admission can be held liable if an intoxicated guest hurts himself or others, and could create a significant crack in the laws that that protect party hosts from alcohol-related lawsuits.
The case in question involved a 20 year old girl who decided to throw a party at an unoccupied rental home owned by her parents, without their permission. Word of the party spread and a lot of people who did not even know the host showed up. The attendees got drunk and one of the partygoers was asked to leave. Tragically, as he drove away, the individual ran over and killed another inebriated guest, a 19 year old student. The young man who hit and killed the inebriated guest pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 14 years in jail.
The boy’s parents sued both the party host and her parents for their liability in their son’s death. The trial court and an appeals court ruled that the girl was not legally responsible because she did not intend to profit from the $3 to $5 entrance fee she charged for the party, but merely used the fee to defray the cost of alcohol. Now the Supreme Court will have its say in March.
As one lawyer stated, “The question is: Will justice be served when parents who have no knowledge that a party is going on at their home are essentially vicariously liable because they have an 18 year old child who throws a party while they are gone?”
This tragic death serves to remind us all of the dangers of drinking and driving. But, should the Supreme Court hold the parents liable, will it really serve justice? Or will it simply create more opportunities for trial lawyers to find deep pockets to target when tragedy strikes?