“Can I See Your I.D.?”: Social Host Liability for Underage Guests

By: Daniel P. Sullivan, Esq.

Your oldest son, your pride and joy, has just graduated from high school at the age of seventeen. To celebrate, you invite your neighbor and his seventeen and eighteen year old sons – your teen’s best friends – over to your house for beers. Everyone shares the drinks you have provided until the beers run out. The party then disperses, with your drunk neighbor running to the store for more beer, while your son and his two friends head to another party. Both groups, however, get into fender benders as a result of their intoxication shortly after driving away from your house. The question arises as to what your liability might be for the injuries and damages associated with these wrecks. The answer, however, is more complicated than you might think.

As to your neighbor, though, the answer is simple. Although you provided him alcohol, which may have resulted in the intoxication that caused his wreck, this was done in a social setting. Texas law has long provided that social hosts are not responsible for injuries and damages caused by their intoxicated adult guests. See Graff v. Beard, 858 S.W.2d 918, 922 (Tex. 1993). The more difficult question involves your son and his friends.

This is because under a little-known amendment to the Texas Alcoholic Beverages Code from 2005, you can be liable for damages which result from the provision of alcoholic beverages to ‘unrelated’ minors. Under this amendment:

An adult 21 years of age or older is liable for damages proximately caused by the intoxication of a minor under the age of 18 if:

(1) the adult is not:

(A) the minor’s parent, guardian, or spouse; or

(B) an adult in whose custody the minor has been committed by a court; and

(2) the adult knowingly:

(A) served or provided to the minor any of the alcoholic beverages that contributed to the minor’s intoxication; or

(B) allowed the minor to be served or provided any of the alcoholic beverages that contributed to the minor’s intoxication on the premises owned or leased by the adult.

Tex. Alco. Bev. Code §2.02(c). If, therefore, your neighbor’s seventeen year old son was driving at the time of the accident, you could be responsible for the injuries and damages associated with this wreck under Subsection (2)(A) above. You would likely not, however, be responsible if your neighbor’s eighteen year old son was driving, since this amendment applies only to “damages proximately caused by the intoxication of a minor under the age of 18.” Tex. Alco. Bev. Code §2.02(c). Further, the Texas Supreme Court has held that there is no social host liability for the intoxication of guests age eighteen to twenty. See Smith v. Merritt, 940 S.W.2d 602, 608 (Tex. 1997).

Finally, if your own son were driving, you would likely not be responsible for any injuries sustained, since the above provision does not apply to “the minor’s parent, guardian” or “an adult in whose custody the minor has been committed by a court.” Tex. Alco. Bev. Code §2.02(c)(1). Note however, that you may still be responsible for any property damages which resulted, pursuant to the Texas Family Code which provides that “[a] parent or other person who has the duty of control and reasonable discipline of a child is liable for any property damage proximately caused by…the negligent conduct of the child if the conduct is reasonably attributable to the negligent failure of the parent or other person to exercise that duty.” Tex. Fam. Code §41.001. Visit www.texas-dwi-lawfirm.com for more information.

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