The question of liability for a teenage party in the home of a parent is one that comes up more frequently than you might imagine.
There are number of factors to consider when determining the liability of the parent for the damages, injuries and, in extreme cases, death of a party-goer.
1. Did the parent have knowledge of the activity that occurred in the house?
The first major factor to consider is the parent’s knowledge and acquiescence to the serving of alcohol or the use of mind altering drugs at a party hosted by or known to a parent.
There are cases that while the parents are on a cruise, a party occurs at the house that results in the injury or death of a party-goer. This type of case can be subject to litigation and discovery issues because of the question of permissibility and acquiescence by the parents.
Factors taken into consideration in determining whether or not the parents are liable include the history of partying at the house, the history of the teenager that hosted the party and his proclivity for having parties, the number of police visits to the house, the number of tickets, and the number of arrests that occurred at the house, if any.
2. Did the parent supply alcoholic liquor or illegal drugs?
Illinois Statute 740 ILCS 58 section 5 covers the responsibility of the person who supplies alcoholic liquor or illegal drugs to a person under 18 years of age. It states, in part, “any person at least 18 years of age who willfully supplies alcoholic liquor or illegal drugs to a person under 18 years of age and causes the impairment of such person shall be liable for death or injuries to persons or property caused by the impairment of such person.”
The violation under this statute does not require the parents to set up an open bar or personally serve shots of tequila to the party animals. Simply having liquor available, i.e. on the premises during the party, can be enough to render liability to the parents. This is true even if the liquor is secure if in fact it would be reasonable that the underage revelers would know about or have access to where it is kept.
Keep in mind that parental liability can extend not only to the individuals who become intoxicated, but to third parties who are injured as a result of the intoxicated individual’s acts;
For example, if a party-goer becomes intoxicated or high at a party at the parent’s house, drives home, and causes an injury to one of his or her passengers, liability may extend to the parents under this statute.
3. Did the parents engage in voluntary undertaking and fail to provide reasonable care?
The voluntary undertaking doctrine holds that one who voluntarily undertakes or renders services to another is subject to liability for both the bodily injury and physical damage caused by the failure to exercise reasonable care.
That is, when parents are aware or should have been aware of drinking or the use of drugs in their house and take no steps to stop it, they undertake the well-being of the persons who are partying at the house and may be liable in the event of injury or death resulting from the intoxication if they fail to provide reasonable care.
For example, there have been cases in which the parents allowed alcohol to be served to underage party-goers who then became intoxicated and lost consciousness. The parents failed to provide reasonable care when they didn’t drive the teenagers home nor contact the teenagers’ parents indicating their condition. In these kinds of cases, the parents may not be liable because they were social hosts, but may be liable because they failed to take actions when they knew or should have known of the condition of the people at the house.
The safest rule is to avoid allowing your house to become party central and to make a conscious effort to take all steps necessary to prevent the consumption of alcohol or illegal drugs by underage persons. If any guests do become impaired in the home all efforts should be made to prevent any injury to that person, persons or any potential third parties.