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Law Update: Social Host Liability for Underage Drinking

Times have changed considerably from 30 or 40 years ago. Liquor laws continue to become tougher as lawmakers attempt to stem the tide of liquor-related deaths and injuries. Taking effect January 1, 2013, the State Liquor Control Act prohibits any person from knowingly authorizing or allowing underage posession or consumption of alcohol at home.

Anyone thinking about allowing their child to have other minors over for a drinking party should consider the potential consequences. Violation is a Class A Misdemeanor. Penalties range from $500 to 2500 fine and up to one year in prison. If bodily injury results from the violation, it becomes a Class 4 Felony for which the penalty includes a fine up to $25,000 and one to three years in jail.

Parents in the past have often justified underage drinking in the home on the basis that the kids “will do it anyway”; and it is better that they be in a safe environment then be out driving around. While there is some sense in that, teenagers are often unpredictable and sometimes make bad decisions. Drinking increases the likelihood of bad decision-making, as well as the likelihood of injury from those bad decisions. Under the new law, knowingly authorizing, and even acquiescing, in that activity is a crime that carries potentially significant penalties.

The law recognizes that minors may make bad decisions even when adults make good ones. Property owners who take any of the following actions upon discovering underage drinking will not be considered in violation of the Act if they request assistance from local law enforcement agency to either:

  • remove any person who refuses to turnover the alcohol and stop consuming it; or
  • terminate the activity because the person has been unable to prevent a person under the age of 21 years from consuming alcohol despite having taken all reasonable steps to do so

Contacting local law enforcement will only exonerate a property owner if assistance is requested before any third party files a formal complaint.

There are exceptions for the performance of a religious ceremony and observance of a religious holiday.

Being forewarned is being forearmed. We recommend that parents protect themselves as well as their children and not allow minors to drink in their homes under any circumstances but for the exceptions the law allows.