Parties and underage drinking: Who’s responsible when someone gets hurt?

Parties and underage drinking: Who’s responsible when someone gets hurt?

When your college student is home for the holiday break, there are some things you should know about underage drinking, house parties and what happens when a kid gets hurt or causes harm to someone else after drinking at your house or a friend’s.

First of all, there are criminal penalties for the property owner or adult in charge, and Illinois is about to get stricter on the issue. A new law goes into effect on January 1 that makes it a Class A misdemeanor to allow underage drinking on your property. Jail time is possible. It becomes a Class 4 felony if someone suffers serious injury or death as a result of you allowing underage drinking on your property, which involves not only jail time but significant fines, as well.

In addition, there are potential civil penalties. If there is drinking or drug use at your home or on your property, and someone gets hurt, you can be sued. The injured person could be the minor who was drinking, such as an overdose at a party or an accident after leaving your property. Or, the injured person could be an innocent bystander. If a minor drinks at your house and then drives across town and causes an accident, anyone injured in that accident might have a case against you. The parents or family of the injured individual are often the ones who file the lawsuits. Damages (the amount they’re suing for) can be significant, including medical bills, future medical care, pain and suffering, attorneys fees, etc.

These lawsuits are based on what’s called “social host liability.” It doesn’t exist in all states. In Illinois, the law is limited. It says that if you willfully supply alcohol to a minor, you can be sued for any resulting injuries. The law does not hold adults responsible for underage drinking on their property if they didn’t provide the alcohol, even if they knew about it. However, there are other ways a lawsuit can succeed in these situations.

You also can be sued under the “voluntary undertaking” rule, which says that if you take steps to try and stop or prevent the underage drinking but someone gets hurt anyway, you can be held liable. So apparently, if you look the other way, you’re safe. But if you try to stop it and fail, you can be sued. I’m not saying it makes any sense, but that seems to be the law in Illinois. The bottom line is there is no way to absolutely protect yourself from a lawsuit because every situation is different and you don’t know how the facts are going to play out.

If you are a parent whose son or daughter has been injured after drinking at someone else’s house, know that there are laws in your favor, even if they are unclear. You can speak with an injury attorney about whether you have a case. If other parents failed to keep your child safe, they can be held responsible. Similarly, if you or a loved one are in an accident caused by an underage drunk driver, there may be an adult responsible who supplied the alcohol or allowed the minor to drink on their watch. 

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