California Civil Code Section 1714 imposes liability on people who cause injury as a result of the lack of “ordinary care” in managing their property or person. While 1714(c) limits owner liability for injuries that occur as a result of serving alcohol in their homes, section 1714(d) makes clear that this exception does not apply to parents or adults who allow or encourage minors to consume alcohol in their homes. Because of the provisions found in 1714, the current law in California imposes civil liability on a parent who allows his or her teen children and/or their friends to drink in the home. This means if an injury or death results from the drinking that the parents allowed or were involved in, the parents may be sued in civil court for damages and charged with a misdemeanor as a result, explains a lawyer in Orange County.
Despite these penalties, some in California believe more should be done to prevent underage drinking. The Laguna Beach City Counsel recently tried to pass such an ordinance. The new ordinance-dubbed a “social host ordinance”-would hold parents responsible for any underage drinking that occurs in their homes. Adults would be subject to a variety of penalties based on the nature of their offense, including fines when underage drinking takes place even if the parents are not present, according to the Coastline Pilot.
While the City Counsel outlined in their agenda a number of reasons why they believe that this ordinance should be passed, there are many who strenuously object to the new ordinance. In fact, Laguna Beach High School students have joined together to fight against the ordinance and have created a Facebook page to serve as a forum on the issue.
Students have raised a number of arguments against the proposed social host ordinance. One argument is that the ordinance will prompt teens to take their parties to public locations, such as parks or beaches, so that parents cannot be held responsible. A sophomore at Laguna Beach High School who was quoted in the Los Angeles Times indicated that this would create a greater danger of the teens being injured or injuring someone else.
Another argument that has been raised is that this ordinance could actually contribute to more serious drinking injuries. To support this argument, a senior Laguna Beach High School student referenced the passage of a social host law in Santa Barbara. This law significantly undercut a “Just Call 911” campaign intended to encourage people to get help for drug and alcohol overdoses. The campaign had been successful until the social host ordinance passed and people became afraid of being held liable for the actions of partygoers.
The student arguments are compelling, especially when coupled with assertions that the passage of the social host law is going to do little to combat underage drinking.
Further, the question remains as to whether it is fair to impose blanket liability on a parent for the acts of his or her child and their friends. There are already negligent supervision laws in place, as well as the laws in California Civil Code Section 1714, that impose liability on parents who are actually negligent. This new ordinance would essentially change the standard from one of negligence to strict liability, which is a shift from past policies on this issue. While this might encourage parents to take a stronger stance against teen drinking, it may also backfire as the students suggest and simply create more dangerous situations where teens go to greater lengths to hide the underage drinking that is occurring.
Additional information on state social host laws is available to the public free of charge through our office’s Preferred Friends and Clients Program.
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