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New California Law Targets Adults Who Provide Alcohol to Minors

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Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed a bill that will effectively add California to the list of states where adults can be held civilly liable if they provide alcohol to minors in social settings, the Associated Press reports. This law, commonly known as “social host liability law,” applies to adults who knowingly allow minors to drink alcohol in their home.

Under this law, in addition to facing criminal charges for furnishing alcohol to a minor, the adults involved can also be held civilly liable in situations where alcohol they provided is determined to be the main cause of personal injuries or death. It is illegal in California for anyone under the age of 21 to consume alcohol.

Several organizations including Mothers against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the Consumer Attorneys of California (CAOC) strongly supported passing of the social host liability law. Another article on this topic is The CAOC Supports the Teen Alcohol Safety Act of 2010.

Compensation for DUI Victims and their Families

Governor Schwarzenegger says he believes adults who provide alcohol to minors put not only the kids, but the entire community at risk. This is absolutely right. A person who is driving under the influence of alcohol not only puts himself or herself in danger, but also jeopardizes the safety and well-being of others on the road. California has so far been only one of three states that give civil lawsuit immunity even in cases that culminated in tragic teen deaths. This law changes that and will allow victims of drunk driving or their families to seek compensation in such cases. But it will not apply to licensed alcohol vendors such as bars and restaurants.

Different states have varying versions of this social host liability law. In some states adults who furnish too much alcohol to adults in a social setting such as a party or barbecue could be held liable if it results in an injury or fatal collision. In most states, however, the social host liability law applies only to adults who furnish alcohol to minors.

A Step in the Right Direction

In my opinion, it is high time this law became effective in California. It is absurd to give total immunity to adults who are irresponsible enough to open up their liquor cabinets to their children and their friends. It is appalling to imagine that some of these parties may be unsupervised and some parents may knowingly be allowing these young people to drive out of their property drunk.

As California personal injury lawyers who have represented DUI victims over the decades, we wholeheartedly support this new law and these two organizations.

I do remember coming home from a weekend away and finding that one of my daughters had thrown a party at the house. My liquor cabinet was depleated and watered down, and the trashcans indicated that the kids brought quite a bite of alcohol on their own. Although that was the last time any of my children hosted an unauthorized party at our home, I found out it hadn’t been the first. I had no idea until recently that it was a common occurrence when I was out of town over a weekend. Since I didn’t do anything to lock up my liquor cabinet, could I have been liable if someone was injured as the result of the drinking at my home?

This new law is not without limitations. While it does eliminate the immunity that social hosts enjoyed up until now, the family of the injured victim or family of the deceased victim must prove that the negligence occurred. So, the bill is limited in that it does not automatically hold social hosts liable for injuries and deaths caused by underage drinking. But it is a much-needed first step in our efforts to prevent teen drinking tragedies in California.

It is my belief that we will rarely ever see an actual case of an adult being held liable for injuries under this statute. Its real value is the threat of liability that will deter many adults from allowing children to consume alcohol and then drive away. I think it will give some adults a reason to say no to underage drinking when they may have allowed it previously.

For more information about the dangers of underage drinking, please visit the Mothers against Drunk Driving (MADD) web site at www.madd.org.

Do you know of parents who furnish alcohol to their children and their friends at house parties? We would like to hear about your thoughts and comments on this new law.

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  • Fritz Koenig

    The article states, “It is illegal in California for anyone under the age of 21 to consume alcohol.”

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