In full disclosure, I am a suburban parent with two high school students living in my house, so for this blog I will generally tend to be more knowledgeable than usual. To set the tone, let me also advise that I live in a sleepy little beach town, where word of a loud, crowded, and alcohol-fueled soiree makes its way around town, by reputation, pretty darn quick.
Nonetheless, and despite it being illegal to serve alcohol to minors, on almost any given weekend, multiple parents give their underage child the thumbs up to have these shindigs at their houses or in their yards. This can lead to one of two bad consequences:
- The parent gets in trouble with the law for serving minors
- Some kid gets hurt on your property
Do you understand what I just said? If you OK an underage party with alcohol and things go wrong, either you face a felony conviction and/or a civil lawsuit that might not get covered by your insurance, and thus bankrupt your family!
So, how do parents justify taking such a risk? Well, if I had to play pop psychologist, I’d guess that some parents would rather have kids drink at their house, as opposed to somewhere else, so at least they can exercise some control – OK, this is not a horrible justification as parenting goes.
Still, other parents were probably rabble-rousers when they were kids and see a party with alcohol as a “rite of passage”. Then there are the “always insecure – never grew up – still partying like it’s 1995” parents, that convince themselves that they are hip by association if they drink with their kids. You know these parents – the mom wears the same outfit as her daughter and tells people “we’re sisters” and the dad is wearing his baseball cap backwards, presumably to reverse the aging process.
Real Injuries from Drunken House Parties
But regardless of why these parents acquiesce and allow the “big party”, I’m here to explain the real-world implications that can arise if a party with alcohol isn’t carefully orchestrated and monitored. Below are a few real-life examples of cases I’ve personally handled over the last 20 years that put a tremendous financial strain on the host parents:
- Drunk mom gets on an unprotected trampoline and breaks her neck – $3.2 million recovered from the host
- Kid drinks at a party and passes out face down in a stream, drowning – $6.4 million+ recovery and the host parents were convicted as felons
- 14-year-old drinks and then jumps off the diving board in winter, landing on an iced-over pool and breaking his leg – $350,000
- Two drunk high school boys have a fistfight over a girl – broken nose – $145,000
- Alcohol poisoning – $85,000
- Drunk girl falls downstairs and shatters ankle – $325,000
- Drunk kid leaves house party and hits another car – host held responsible – $600,000
- Dazed kid wanders from party onto a dark road in black shirt – hit by car – $170,000
- Buzzed kid teases dog and gets nose bitten off – $420,000
An Injured Child, an Angry Parent, and the Post-Party Aftermath
Look, most of these parties start off harmless and remain that way. The host high schooler invites a few close friends over – they listen to music, play some cards, share a few spiked seltzers, and nobody knows any better.
Then there are the parties where the crowd gets too large, kids show up already drunk or stoned, there is zero parenting present and somebody gets hurt . . . and, by the way, with modern devices, like doorbell cameras, you really can’t play dumb anymore and say you weren’t home or didn’t know.
What do you think is going to be the reaction of the injured child’s parents when they find out their kid was drinking Johnny Walker Black at your house, just before he got impaled on your fence while acting out a scene from Mission Impossible? Do you think those parents are sympathetic to your apology? Or angry at their child? Or . . . do you think they will instead lawyer up and do everything in their power to destroy your family’s name, reputation and finances?
Suddenly, you face criminal charges with a real possibility that you serve jail time. Likewise, you face a civil lawsuit, big legal fees and a draining of your assets, since your insurance company has every right to disclaim on your policy because it didn’t cover illegally serving minors alcohol.
Managing the Liability
Now is the time in this blog for me to beg you to weigh the consequences when approving a party at your house. It’s OK for kids to have fun, but it’s also OK for you to act like a parent and draw lines so that your party can be safe, and you can limit your liability exposure:
- Make it clear to your kids of the risks associated with a party and, if they want one, then they need to remain sober and in charge.
- Keep the party numbers small, so you can exercise some control.
- Monitor the amount of alcohol served.
- Make it clear to attendees, or have your child make it clear, that if someone is buzzed, they should leave by Uber and pick up their car tomorrow.
- Make certain areas off-limits – no pools, hot tubs, or trampolines.
- Cut off anyone that seems drunk – call their parents if they have a problem with it (they’ll thank you).
I can’t guarantee that this will stop you from being sued, but at least it lowers your chances and gives you a fighting chance. Good luck.