Party Host Liability Helps Prevent Underage Drinking

States with laws similar to Georgia, which hold adults responsible when teens drink alcohol on their property and cause a drunk driving accident, may have lower underage drinking rates when compared to those states that do not have social host laws in place.

A recent study published in the Journal of Studies and Alcohol and Drugs found that the number of teenagers who reported alcohol use on weekends was much lower in states that had very strong social host laws. Strong social host laws hold adults responsible even if they were not aware that there was underage drinking on their premises.

For most teenagers who are involved in drunk driving accidents, the source of alcohol is not a commercial establishment. Rather, it is a venue like a party or a social gathering, where they access alcohol furnished by an adult. Georgia's social host laws allow injury victims to hold adult individuals or businesses that host a social gathering liable for their damages. If the host furnishes alcohol to a person who is under the legal drinking age, and if the underage drinker then goes out and causes a drunk driving accident, a claim can name the social host liable for damages.

The legal drinking age in Georgia is 21. The law makes it illegal for adults to furnish alcohol to people below the drinking age. However, Georgia's social host liability laws do not create "strict liability." For instance, in order to name parents of the party host in a lawsuit, the claimant must prove that the parents were aware that their teen child was hosting a party at their house that involved alcohol use. If a group of teens host a party in the basement of their parents' house, and consume alcohol without their parents' knowledge, the parents cannot be held responsible for any drunk driving accident caused as the result of the underage drinking.

Therefore, in any claim that is based on Georgia's social host liability laws, it is important for the plaintiff, or the person injured in the accident to prove that the adult in question was aware of the underage drinking on his premises.

Many states, however, have social host liability laws that hold adults liable for injuries caused by an underage drinker on their premises regardless of whether they knew about the drinking. The fact that the teens were drinking on their property, and that the alcohol use later resulted in an accident, can create liability for any damages arising out of the accident.

As with most issues of law, there are exceptions to the general rules which will depend on the specific facts surrounding the accident. However, it is clear that parents should take important steps to ensure minors are not drinking on their property, and also that they do not have access to their alcoholic beverages.

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