We invite you to consider the following scenario. Graduation day for your teenage son is rapidly approaching. Because you are concerned about the risk of your teen drinking and driving or riding with an intoxicated peer, you consent to a party in your home. The arrangements include scheduling a caterer and DJ. These arrangements also involve purchasing kegs of beer for the adults and cases of soda for your son and his friends. Part of the preparations also include warning your son that there will be no underage drinking at the party. Some teens sneak alcohol into the garage, and one of the teens who has had several drinks climbs behind the wheel with a car full of teenage passengers. A tragic crash on the way home results in the death of one of the passengers. A question arises whether the homeowner can be liable in a wrongful death or personal injury lawsuit. This two-part blog post discusses the potential for liability, scope of insurance coverage and practices to avoid needing to pursue such an insurance claim.
While this blog typically focuses on coverage issues and bad faith practices with an insurer, we also try to provide tips to consumers on ways to avoid the need to pursue an insurance claim. With the school year winding down, many high school students will be planning parties to celebrate proms, graduations and other rites of passage. Many parents that attempt to host parties with teenagers to discourage drinking and driving often learn that being the “cool parent” can be extremely costly.
When teen drivers are involved in car accidents that cause bodily injury or fatalities, the person or entity that served alcohol to the underage drinker can be liable depending on the facts, circumstances and state law. There are two types of third-party liability that might be the basis for imposing financial responsibility on an individual who hosts a party where alcohol was consumed. The specific law that applies will depend on the Dram Shop and social host liability laws in your state. In the example above, a state’s social host law is the key to determining liability. While the precise definition of a social host varies between jurisdictions, the basic principle permits liability to be imposed on a third-party for making alcohol available in your home to someone who later causes a car accident resulting in personal injury or wrongful death.
While Florida does not impose “social host liability,” many other states do permit lawsuits against homeowners in this situation. While the parameters that determine fault in this situation will vary, many states allow a homeowner to be sued in this situation if they furnished alcohol to an underage drinker. Another common provision of social host laws impose financial responsibility for serving alcohol to an individual that the homeowner knew or should have known was intoxicated and would later drive a motor vehicle. In this second scenario, a homeowner is not liable for serving the first drink, but he or she might be liable for serving the third or fourth drink after the impairing effects of the alcohol have become apparent.
If you have questions about potential liability risks and the scope of your insurance coverage, I invite you to contact us. I am a former insurance claims adjuster and insurance claims attorney. Readers also can learn about insurance coverage issues and ways to avoid potential claims in Part II of this blog. My law firm represents policyholders in claims disputes in Miami and throughout Florida. The Law Firm of J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo, P.A. offers free consultations and case evaluations. No Recovery, No Lawyer Fees. Call 305-461-1095 or Toll Free 1-866-71-CLAIM.