This is Part II of a two-part blog discussing homeowner liability claims for personal injury or wrongful death arising out of teen car accidents following a party at an individual’s home. Although Florida homeowners might be prone to ask why they should worry since our state does not impose social host liability, the answer is that the law can be complicated and nuanced. If we make a minor tweak to the factual scenario in Part I of this blog, the insured might be subject to a civil lawsuit. When a homeowner charges even a minor amount for furnishing the alcohol, such as $5 for a red cup or $1 per beer, the property owner might now face liability under Florida’s Dram Shop Law.
Dram shop liability involves imposing liability on individuals and/or establishments that sell alcohol to individuals who cause injury by driving drunk. Florida’s Dram Shop Law provides in pertinent part:
“768.125 Liability for injury or damage resulting from intoxication.—A person who sells or furnishes alcoholic beverages to a person of lawful drinking age shall not thereby become liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such person, except that a person who willfully and unlawfully sells or furnishes alcoholic beverages to a person who is not of lawful drinking age or who knowingly serves a person habitually addicted to the use of any or all alcoholic beverages may become liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such minor or person.”
This means that the homeowner in our example in Florida might need the liability coverage in his or her homeowners policy to cover the cost of a personal injury lawsuit with only a modest change in the facts of our scenario. Although the cost of defense and a potential settlement or judgment might be covered by the policy, a punitive damage award would not be covered under the policy. Further, a jury might be rather liberal in finding the basis for imposing liability under the Dram Shop Law for the death of a teenager passenger.
There also are other legal theories that might apply and result in homeowners incurring liability, such as negligent supervision of a driver depending on the facts of the situation. If you arrange a get together with other parents where you are taking supervisory responsibility of another teenager, this also might create a basis of liability under the right circumstances. In this situation, you might face a liability claim even if you did not furnish the alcohol and were unaware that it was present.
We have provided some suggestions for avoiding the risk of a liability claim associated with the end of the year teenage parties:
- The most effective approach might simply not be to have alcohol available at this type of party with a mixture of teenagers and adults. However, this might not be a realistic option and does not prevent teenagers from sneaking alcohol into your home. A supplemental measure might involve requiring teenagers to surrender their keys and sleep over to avoid this problem.
- Confirm that you have adequate insurance coverage to protect all of your assets including auto coverage, homeowners insurance and potentially an umbrella policy.
- If you move your party to a restaurant, banquet hall or similar facility rather than your backyard, you can shift the liability risk to the facility. These types of facilities are familiar with the risks, their servers and security, so they have procedures that are arranged to minimize the risk of underage drinking.
- While it may be tempting to assume such worries are unnecessary because you have “good kids,” this is not a “good kid vs. bad kid” issue. Almost all teenagers experiment with alcohol or drugs even National Merit Scholars, and a realistic approach can prevent a potential devastating financial loss and an unwelcome battle with your insurance carrier.
If you have questions about potential liability risks and the scope of your insurance coverage, I invite you to avail yourself of my experience as a former insurance claims adjuster and insurance claims attorney. 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 305-461-1095or Toll Free 1-866-71-CLAIM.