Speaking from experience, one of a parent’s proudest moments is seeing their children succeed and enjoying the celebration of that success with their child.
As we approach the end of another school year, many parents are getting ready to celebrate high school graduations. For the proud parents of recent graduates, each will likely be faced with the dilemma of whether or not to serve alcoholic beverages at the graduation party and whether to allow the young men and women who attend the party to consume alcohol.
This is a social host dilemma that many parents face every year, and although this is undoubtedly a very special, once in a lifetime occasion for the graduate and his/her friends, it is both illegal and extremely dangerous to allow teens to consume alcohol, and worse yet providing the alcohol can lead to serious penalties.
Many states have enacted “social host liability laws” for the purpose of preventing injuries caused by intoxicated minors. These types of laws hold adults accountable for any injuries to property or people caused by a minor who was drinking at the house of the adult. Some of these social host laws can make the adult civilly liable (money damages) or criminally liable (fines or prison time). The purpose of these laws is to make adult hosts more considerate of who they serve alcohol to, in the hopes of preventing alcohol related accidents, injuries, and deaths.
Courts in New York enforce both civil and criminal penalties on adults who provide alcohol to minors at their home. The General Obligations Law, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law, and Penal Law establish civil and criminal penalties for providing alcohol to minors.*
The General Obligations Law essentially says that if an adult is aware that a minor is consuming alcohol at the home or if the adult provided the alcohol, then the adult can be held accountable for any damages that occur as a result of that minor being intoxicated. This extends to everything the minor does when they leave the home and this extends to both parents.
On top of the civil penalties, if an adult buys alcohol for a minor, the adult can also be held criminally liable under the Alcoholic Beverage Control Laws of New York [NYABC §65(1)]. This type of criminal liability can mean significant fines or time spent in jail.
Additionally, prosecutors at the state level have pursued charges such as Endangering the Welfare of a Child against those who have provided alcohol to minors. Such an offense in NewYork is punishable by up to 1 year in jail as well as up to a $1000.00 fine.
It is not every day that a parent gets the opportunity to be the “cool parent” instead of the “boring parent,” but in this circumstance, with so much risk and danger involved, it is simply not worth it.
*Under N.Y. Gen. Oblig. Law §11-100, a social host who unlawfully procures alcoholic beverages for consumption by an underage person may be held liable for any damages caused by such person who became intoxicated as a result of such consumption. Cole v. O’Tooles of Utica, Inc., 643 N.Y.S.2d 283 (A.D. 4 Dept. 1996). Also, one who is “more than an unknowing by-stander and who plays an indispensable role in the scheme to provide alcohol to underage guests can be held liable for any damages caused by such person who became intoxicated as a result of such consumption.” Rust v. Reyer, 693 N.E.2d 1074 (N.Y. 1998) .