In the upcoming weeks approximately 383 high schools in Massachusetts will have a cause for celebration: Graduation Day! Families and friends will gather to celebrate this major milestone. Graduation is a joyous occasion for all, and an exciting segue to the next chapter in life. Each year, however, crushing stories of a graduating senior being killed as a result of drinking make the headlines.
Although the law prohibits underage drinking, many of our graduating seniors and their friends will unfortunately participate in drinking this time of year. Some parents will even allow their teens to host parties for friends – thinking that as long as they are in a safe environment, the children are less likely to get hurt. But, allowing underage drinking in one’s home gives rise to issues of both civil and criminal liability.
Criminal liability for under-age drinking
You probably know that under Massachusetts law, it’s illegal to sell alcohol to anyone under the age of 21. But did you know it’s also illegal to provide alcohol to them, or even just to allow it?
In Massachusetts law, there is clear criminal liability for the sale, delivery or furnishing of alcoholic beverages to anyone under the age of 21. Knowingly or intentionally providing alcohol to any person under 21 can result in punishment through a heavy fine, by imprisonment, or both.
You can be found criminally liable if you give or allow a minor to possess alcoholic beverages on the premises or property owned or controlled by you – including your home.
Civil liability for under-age drinking is less clear-cut
Civil liability for a person who provides for or allows underage drinking to occur in their home is less clear. The legal name for such liability is “social host liability.” The social host – the person at whose house alcohol is being consumed – can be held liable.
There is no liability on the part of a social host for a guest’s injuries sustained as a result of the guest’s own intoxication. In other words, if a guest hurts themselves, you won’t be held civilly liable.
A social host may, however, be liable for injuries caused by an intoxicated guest (minor or adult).
To hold the social host liable, it must be shown that the social host provided the alcohol, or had the right to exercise control over it, and knew or reasonably should have known that the guest was intoxicated at the time the alcohol was provided.
Be safe this graduation season
Allowing minors to consume alcohol on a premises almost always gives rise to liability, either criminal or civil. Don’t serve alcohol to graduating teens. And, be aware of the risks that your children may encounter at others’ houses.
Although it is difficult to establish civil liability on the part of host of underage drinking, other avenues to liability may exist. SUGARMAN’s experienced team of personal injury lawyers have decades of experience with liquor liability claims. Call us at 617-542-1000, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or fill out a Contact Form.