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Hosts are legally responsible for underage guests’ drinking

Graduations mean parties. Proud parents and graduates have good reason to celebrate this milestone.  Partying, however, has its down side.  Underage students are likely to want to have a beer or more to mark this step toward adulthood, and parents hosting graduation parties may be tempted to give in to their kids’ quest for popularity by allowing teenagers to drink on their property.  This is a big mistake, with legal consequences.

Adults who serve alcohol to minors who are not their own children are called “social hosts.”  In New York State, social hosts are liable for criminal charges and civil lawsuits even if they didn’t personally buy the alcohol, and even if the youth’s parent gave permission for the teen to drink.

“Social host parents are liable for any other person’s injury or property damage that occurs as a result of the underage drinking,” said Christopher C. Kerr, attorney at Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys, PLLC.  “Aside from the embarrassment, parents could face jail time and a substantial fine.”

If you are hosting a graduation party, it is your responsibility to know if your underage guests are drinking.  Since drinking is considered a rite of passage in our society and teenagers have their ways of getting around the system, this can be difficult to control.

“If a teen causes property damage or injures someone because of drinking, the social hosts can be held responsible even if they didn’t know the teen was drinking,” Kerr said.  “And the minor does not have to be legally intoxicated or under the influence, as long as the alcohol affected him and was a reason the incident happened.”

At the very minimum, don’t let students who you may suspect have had a drink at your house get behind the wheel of a car.