Underage hosts liable for teen parties

If you’re an underage college or high school student, you may want to reconsider charging a cover at your next kegger.

The California Supreme Court ruled this week that hosts under the age of 21 who charge admission to an alcohol fueled party can be held liable for civil damages — if a minor who is already obviously drunk attends the party and subsequently hurts or kills another person.

Normally, those who provide booze, whether social hosts or bars, are immune from being sued if a person goes out and harms somebody else after getting wasted.

 This stems from a 1978 state law, one which contains a few exceptions. Notably, that civil lawsuits are allowed if alcohol is sold to minor who is already obviously trashed.

The court unanimously decided Monday that the collection of a cover charge at a party where liquor is served now qualifies as a sale of alcohol.

 The ruling sets a precedent for other cases in which young people are charged a cover fee.  According to Sharon Arkin, a lawyer who filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Consumer Attorneys of California:

“I’ve been told that a lot of college dorm parties and high school parties charge entry fees.  Under this decision, if hosts charge a fee and serve the alcohol (to a minor) and someone gets hurt, they’re responsible.”

Originally, only liquor sellers who sold to obviously drunk minors were at risk for civil liability. But in 1986 the Legislature expanded the exception to anyone who sells alcohol.

Another related exception was added in 2010 regarding parents who knowingly provide alcohol to minors at their residence, regardless of whether or not the minors were already visibly drunk when the alcohol was given.

Now, anybody who provides alcohol to minors who are already noticeably impaired, could potentially face stiff financial repercussions should an unfortunate incident occur.