New Jersey Courts Address Parental Liability for Underage Drinking and Going Forward Imposes Liability on Underage Adults Who Host
On June 6, 2019 the New Jersey Superior Court’s Appellate Division, the intermediate appeals court, decided whether homeowners whose children consume alcohol and allow other underage adults to consume alcoholic beverages at their home are liable for resulting injuries. No statutory directive or existing case law imposes such liability – where the underage guest consume alcohol without the parents’ acquiescence or awareness. Going forward the Court could conceive of situations where liability could be imposed; where an underage adult child informs their parents that they intend to host a party at which they and other underage adults will consume alcohol and the parents leave the house knowing there is beer in the refrigerator or an unlocked liquor cabinet. Although no established precedent imposes liability upon the underage adult host of such a party the court could conceive of potential liability and announced a new rule of law; prospectively an adult who is under the legal drinking age has a common law legal duty to injured to injured parties to desist from facilitating the drinking of alcoholic beverages by underage adults in their place of residence.
This is without regard to whether this host owns, rents, or manages the premises. Because it is not usually the place for an intermediate appellate court to announce a new rule of law, the court deferred the effective date of this new duty for 180 days to give the Supreme Court and Legislature time to act. These issues reached the courts because a liquor store sold alcoholic beverages to a nineteen year old without checking his identification. He took the half gallon of vodka and case of beer to a friend’s house where he and other under age adults consumed it.
When he left in one there with one of those intoxicated underage friends the subsequent car accident ended his life. His parents sued the car drivers and owners for negligence and the liquor store under the Dram Shop law. The liquor store in turn tried to bring in the young man who hosted the gathering and his parents as additional defendants. Both claims were dismissed on summary judgment on the basis that no current legal authority placed a burden on either unknowing parents or the underage host to prevent underage alcohol consumption. If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of an alcohol influenced accident, or you have been named in a defendant as a result of such an accident, contact the Woodbury Attorneys of Craig Annin & Baxter to evaluate and pursue your legal options.