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Social Host Liability
With our Prom and Graduation Day rapidly approaching, as well as summer partying, I have recently been receiving email inquiries asking about what parents can and cannot do in terms of hosting parties after said events. The following are FAQ's*** pertaining to this issue.
If you have further questions or concerns, please email me at gpavao@westfordma.gov  Det. Pavao

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.
I am hosting a party at which I'll be providing alcohol for people 21 and older. There will be people under 21 in attendance, but I will not be giving them alcohol. If I know that the guests under 21 brought their own, but I do not take it away, and simply ignore it, am I liable under the Social Host law?
Probably in many states the social host law extends beyond the supplying of alcohol to minors to simply allowing underage persons to consume alcohol on premises that the host controls. Consult your state's law for more specific information.
The bottom line is that you are never "safe" from liability if you furnish alcohol to persons under 21. Allowing someone underage to drink is not worth the risk.



***provided by Campbell, Campbell, Edwards and Conroy (socialhostliability.org)


Westford Academy   •   30 Patten Road  •  Westford, MA 01886   •   Tel: (978) 692-5570

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