SOCIAL HOST LIABILITY BASICS: WRONGFUL DEATH

Jun 23 2016

Some of the most important societal concerns today revolve around the dangers of adolescent and teen alcohol and substance abuse such as wrongful death, violent auto collisions, and family violence. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), an organization founded in 1980 that has been committed to combating the dangers of driving drunk, early alcohol consumption can have detrimental effects to one’s future. People reporting first use of alcohol before age 15 were more than five times more likely to have past year alcohol dependence or abuse compared with people who first used alcohol at age 21 or older. And a 2007 study conducted by the U.S. Surgeon General found that 5,000 people under the age of 21 died from alcohol-related injuries. Many of these young people were also involved in serious auto collisions, or other tragic accidents that resulted in personal injuries or death.

 

Texas alone has experienced its share of automobile crashes that resulted in alcohol-related injuries or Wrongful Death. In the past five years alone, there have been over 6,000 DUI fatalities in Texas with a state subsidy of these fatalities amounting to $29.7 billion.

In order to curb the growing tide of drunk driving deaths and devastating injuries, addressing the overarching issue of substance abuse is critical. Adults, especially parents and guardians, must be cognizant of the dangers related to alcohol consumption. How parents respond to these issues can strongly influence not only their own childrens’ actions, but those of their friends’ as well.

While the federal government has implemented some measures to combat drunk driving and other substance abuse issues, most of this has been done at the state and local levels.

One way states have decided to take on this issue is through social host legislation. With most teens, the preferred setting for drinking and partying is within the confines of someone’s home. Here, they feel relaxed and can do what they want with ease. Procuring alcohol is also simple for kids. According to a study done by the American Medical Association (AMA), 1 in 3 teens said it was easy to get alcohol from their own consenting parents and 2 out of 5 said it was easy to get alcoholic beverages from a friends’ parents. These statistics are not meant to demonize parents or make them out to be careless, but even parents with good intentions host parties under the presumption that they can control the amount of alcohol present. Some may even believe that their sheer presence can avert any potential danger. These notions are simply not true.

With these issues becoming more and more common, state legislators have felt the need to step in. Under a state’s social host law, adults can be held responsible for underage drinking, regardless of who provides the alcohol.

In order to better understand how the laws operate, one needs to understand that a social host refers to adults who knowingly or unknowingly host underage drinking parties on property they own, lease, or otherwise control. The laws typically include the following:

  1. Parents away from home when their teens host a party
  2. Parents who are present but deny knowledge of drinking on their property
  3. Owners and/or tenants of rural property
  4. Owners of vacant property

Many parents may question the effectiveness of these measures. Why not simply go after those who distributed the alcohol? The answer to this lies in the difficulty of determining who provided the alcohol. Law enforcement officials are often caught up with other activity when they arrive at the scene of a party, making it difficult to enforce laws that prohibit the furnishing of alcohol to minors. Social host ensures that someone be made liable by focusing on where the drinking takes place, rather than who provided the alcohol.

With this in mind, parents must always be aware of what is going on in their home when it comes to protecting their kids and other minors. Simply having knowledge of minor consumption of alcohol is crucial to the safety for all.

Despite the emphasis of this blog post being on teenage matters, social host laws often contain provisions that include accountability measures for adult parties. While the same level of host responsibility does not apply to adult guests, a host can still be held liable if one supplied car keys to an intoxicated adult who ended up hurting another person.

Here are some key measures to take into account when you decide to host an event with alcohol:

Recommend in advance that your guests use a designated driver to drive them home to avoid Wrongful Death cases.

  1. As a host, limit your drinking so you can judge your guests’ sobriety
  2. Serve food with the alcohol and make non-alcoholic drinks available
  3. Remove the alcohol before the party ends and switch to coffee and soda
  4. Call a taxi for anyone who appears to be intoxicated

If you would like to review the current Texas social host law, refer to this link: http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/AL/htm/AL.2.htm

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Carl Shaw

Having over 20 years in law enforcement and having played a pivotal role in some of the nation’s most visible landmark cases, Carl Shaw has earned the recognition and respect of the legal community and his clients as a capable and compassionate attorney who will not flinch in the face of opposition.

Website: www.shawlawtexas.com

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