Allen v. Liberman tells the sad tale of a 17-year-old who naively consumed 15 shots of vodka in one hour at her friend’s sleepover.
FIFTEEN SHOTS OF VODKA
Shelby Allen spent the night at her friend Kayli Liberman’s home in Shasta County.
On the evening of Dec. 9, 2008, the Libermans were entertaining in their game room which contained a fully stocked bar. Shelby and a friend arrived at the Liberman home around 12:30 a.m.
Just before going to bed, Mr. Liberman told the three teenagers that he did not give permission to drink alcohol. So what did they do?
All three minors drank vodka. Shelby consumed 15 shots between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. She began vomiting. Did her friend Kayli Liberman take care of her?
Kayli propped Shelby’s head against the toilet, texted a friend and went to bed. That was the second of a series of stupid mistakes.
In the morning Kayli told her father they had been drinking alcohol and that Shelby had been sick but was okay, still sleeping in the bathroom.
Mr. Liberman went to work not wanting to invade the space of his teenage daughter’s guest in the bathroom.
Finally someone checked on Shelby, by then she had stopped breathing.
The legal question in this unfortunate story is: Were the Libermans legally responsible for their daughter’s sleepover guest drinking herself to death? Shelby’s parents believed they were and sued the Libermans.
The Libermans defended claiming they were immune from liability due to California’s Social Host Immunity statutes.
Doctors at the trial testified that 15 back-to-back shots of alcohol for a person of Selby’s size, was a fatal dose of acute alcohol poisoning. I would think so.
SOCIAL HOST IMMUNITY
As you readers know, California generally protects social hosts from liability for furnishing alcoholic beverages in their homes: “No social host who furnishes alcoholic beverages to any person may be held legally accountable for damages suffered by that person … resulting from the consumption of those beverages.”
In 2010 — apparently inspired by Shelby’s death — the Legislature created an exception to the Social Host Immunity: The social host immunity does not prevent a lawsuit against the parent or other adult who knowingly furnishes alcoholic beverages at his or her residence to a person whom he or she knows, or should have known, to be under 21 years of age.
The Libermans claimed they were protected by the literal wording of that two-prong statute.
Shelby’s parents’ lawsuit also claimed the Libermans were liable for failing to properly care for their daughter while she was at their home after she passed out in the bathroom.
The Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the Libermans finding they did not knowingly furnish alcoholic beverages to Shelby. They were fast asleep.
The Court also determined the Libermans had no duty to lock their liquor cabinet. And as Kayli was a minor, she was not responsible for her friend Shelby.
How two teenagers can allow their friend to drink 15 shots of alcohol in an hour, then leave her propped up against the toilet and go to bed, is inexplicable.
We all make dumb mistakes, but this one cost Shelby Allen her life.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee, Tahoe City and Reno. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.portersimon.com.