social host liabilityFor more than 130 years, many states, including Illinois, rejected the idea of social host liability.  Specifically, state law in Illinois had maintained that a person who provided alcohol to a guest could not be held legally responsible for any damages resulting from intoxication of their guest(s).  For instance, if a guest injured themselves or another person in a drunk driving collision, the host who supplied the alcohol before the accident could not be legally penalized.

This used to be the law regardless of the situation surrounding the drinking, even if the guest was a minor.  However, recent legislation in Illinois has specifically addressed adults who knowingly contribute to minors (under 18) drinking, and other states may soon follow suit.

The Original Dram Shop Act

During the early 1800s, Illinois held its position that there was no viable lawsuit for injury stemming from the sale or gift of alcoholic beverages.  The rationalization behind this was that the drinking of the alcohol, not the sale or gifting of it, was the cause of intoxication and the resulting injuries.  The courts held the belief that any change to this rule should be the responsibility of the Illinois Legislature.

However, in response to the temperance and prohibition movement that swept the nation, Illinois passed the original Dram Shop Act in 1872.  This act imposed liability upon any liquor store, tavern or restaurant that sold alcohol to a person who became intoxicated and injured someone else; though the Act did not specifically address social host liability.

The Drug or Alcohol Impaired Minor Responsibility Act

In May 2003, a bloody, drunken hazing ritual between junior and senior girls at a powder puff football game at Glenbrook North High School resulted in 5 girls going to the hospital and numerous students being suspended or expelled.  Several television and newspaper reports questioned the responsibility of the parents who allowed this activity to take place.

This horrific and highly publicized event ultimately contributed to the passage of the Drug or Alcohol Impaired Minor Responsibility Act, which became effective in Illinois on October 1, 2004.  Under this Act, any adult who intentionally supplies alcohol or drugs to minors and causes impairment is strictly liable for any injuries, or death(s), which result from the impairment or intoxication.  This is a very extensive statute that allows for a wide range of liability and limitless damages.

Serious Consequences for Serving Alcohol to Minors

The Drug or Alcohol Impaired Minor Responsibility Act places great emphasis on the responsibility of the adult, explicitly excluding the contributory negligence of the minor from consideration.  Therefore, an adult who provides alcohol to a minor who is injured, or injures someone else, is totally responsible for any injuries regardless of how foolish or negligent the drunk minor acted in causing the injuries.

Underage Drinking in Missouri

Although Missouri has not yet passed a law with similar wide-ranging extensions for adult liability, state law does clearly say that “it is a violation of the law to knowingly allow a person under 21 to drink or possess alcohol or knowingly fail to stop a person under the age of 21 from drinking or possessing alcohol.”  This is applicable on any property or in any situation.

Punishment for serving alcohol or any other intoxicating substance to a minor in Missouri can include fines and/or imprisonment.  In the absence of a statute, civil penalties are not currently defined, but it is possible that the state may follow Illinois’ lead.

Obey The Law. Protect Your Children.

The message of these laws is very clear. Adults are strictly prohibited from providing alcohol to minors under any and all circumstances.  The days of being a “cool parent” are over. The legal drinking age has been set at 21 to protect children and prevent unnecessary damages.

If your child has been hurt because an adult has contributed alcohol at a party or other gathering, you may have grounds for a lawsuit.  

CONTACT The Lieser Law firm For a FREE consultation. Social Host Liability for Serving Alcohol to Minors