Members of the audience have frequently asked the following questions at our Be A Parent, Not A Pal presentations in Massachusetts. The answers provided are general and do not constitute legal advice. Keep in mind that the law varies from state to state and that the application of the law depends on the particular facts of each situation or incident.
Does the Social Host Law apply to my son, who is not yet 21 years old?
Yes. The law states "whoever" furnishes alcohol to persons under 21, and that "whoever" applies to everyone.
Can I avoid liability by renting a hotel room for my son/daughter's graduation party?
No. Since you rented the room, you control the room. The law applies to the person(s) in control of the premises or property.
If my child hosts a party while I am away, can I still be held liable?
Yes. If you have reason to believe that minors will be consuming alcohol in your home even when you are not there, you may be charged criminally or held liable civilly.
Can I serve alcohol to my own children?
An exception to the law in some states allows you to serve alcohol to your children and grandchildren. However, should an injury result, you may still be liable for substantial monetary damages in a civil suit.
What should I do if my son/daughter's underage friends bring alcohol into my home and start drinking?
- Call the parents of the underage friend(s) in question
- Call the police
Will my homeower's policy cover the costs of litigation and any judgment against me or my child?
Probably not. If you are charged criminally, your policy will most likely not apply. If it does apply, or you are charged civilly, the limits of your policy will likely be too small to cover the legal fees and substantial damages awarded for death or catastrophic injury.
One of my underage children is in college; the other is in the military. Why can't I serve alcohol their friends in the safety of my own home if their parents give permission?
The law is clear: you cannot serve alcohol to persons under 21 years of age or allow them to consume alcohol in your home or on any premises you control. The law against underage drinking applies to you even if exceptions permit minors to consume alcohol in other places.
If my guest, underage or over 21, caused injury to another person and we both were sued, why do I have to pay?
Some states apply the rule of joint and several liability (sometimes called the "deep pocket rule"). This rule makes each and every defendant in a tort (civil) lawsuit liable for the entire amount of the plaintiff's awarded damages in a judgment. This holds true regardless of the defendant's relative degrees of fault or responsibility. If an underage guest causes injury to a third party after consuming alcohol in your home, the third party is likely to pursue you, as the "deeper pocket," for the full amount of the judgment. Judgments in social host cases are often in the millions of dollars.
If someone obtains a judgment against me as a social host, do I still have to pay if I declare bankruptcy?
Not at present. Currently, the bankruptcy laws do not allow the discharge of debts for death or personal injury caused by the debtor's operation of a motor vehicle if the debtor was intoxicated. Social hosts may still discharge debts resulting from the actions of their guests. However, there is a growing trend to prevent this from happening, and the law is subject to change.
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