Jim Porter: Homeowner liable for serving alcohol to minors?
June 13, 2013
We've written about Dram Shop laws — in particular the responsibility of bars for serving too much alcohol to a patron and the liability of social hosts for serving alcohol to minors in their homes.
The law has changed in the last two years and this topic is always timely — at least if you have teenagers.
Teens Drinking and Driving
In April of 2011, five young women, all under the age of 21, partied way too much — well into the morning hours — at the home of defendant Garrett Shoemaker. Either before or during the party, four of the teens went to a store and purchased alcohol through someone who was 21.
After drinking all night, all five women got into a car driven by Andrea Garcia and left Shoemaker's home. Driving on the wrong side of the road, Garcia hit a bicyclist who was seriously injured.
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The bicyclist and his wife sued Shoemaker, Garcia — and the interesting part of the case — the four drinking-buddy passengers in Garcia's car.
Shoemaker was sued for providing the alcohol at his home to Garcia. Clear liability.
Garcia was sued as the driver of the vehicle. Liability there.
And, the four partiers/passengers were sued for "aiding and abetting" a violation of drinking laws and "conspiring" to violate drinking laws with Shoemaker and Garcia.
The trial court threw out the case. The Rybickis appealed.
History of Liquor Law
In the old days, bartenders and other commercial providers of alcohol were generally immune from liability for serving someone too much liquor. A social host likewise had similar immunities.
The theory behind the rule was the furnishing of alcohol is not the cause of injuries resulting from intoxication; rather, it is the consumption of alcohol that is the cause of such injuries.
In the 1970s, the California Supreme Court in a series of court cases, ruled against bartenders and social hosts, finding liability.
In response, the Legislature in 1978 enacted codes that essentially brought back the former law before the Supreme Court gutted it.
Civil Code 1714
Civil Code 1714 now recites that no social host who furnishes alcohol at his or her residence may be held liable unless he or she knew or should have known the person being served was under 21. And in that one situation a homeowner may be sued for serving a minor who causes injuries.
Civil Code 1714 also grants immunity from lawsuits for any licensed purveyor of alcoholic beverages, like a bar and bartender or retail store, who sells or furnishes alcohol — except for sales to "an obviously intoxicated minor." That part of the code is interesting but not relative to our case.
Drinking Passengers Responsible?
Shoemaker, who let the minors drink in his home, is liable under 1714, and Garcia was negligent as driver of the vehicle; but this case addressed whether the four teenage passengers conspired with Shoemaker or aided and abetted Shoemaker because they purchased the alcohol, drank at Shoemakers, then left as passengers in Garcia's vehicle, i.e. one for all and all for one.
The Court of Appeal seemingly quite easily ruled against the bicyclist and his wife who sued, quoting Section 1714: "the furnishing of alcoholic beverages is not the proximate cause of injuries resulting from intoxication."
The Court concluded the underage passengers did not furnish alcohol to Garcia at their residences as required under Section 1714. They are not responsible. It's as simple as that.
If you are serving alcohol to a minor in your home, you will generally be responsible for injuries or deaths the minor causes. Be smart, which may subject you to being "un-cool."
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the firm's web site http://www.portersimon.com.
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