So, it’s a Saturday night and you’re going out for the evening. Your college-aged kid is home for the weekend and wants to have a party with alcohol. You want to be a cool mom or dad, so you allow it or turn a blind eye. You already know where this is going. It’s not a good idea.

A recent New Jersey Supreme Court case decided the issue of whether a young adult, over the age of 18 but under the legal drinking age of 21, has a duty to stop serving alcohol to a visibly intoxicated underage guest in his home, if that guest is expected to operate a motor vehicle later and pose a risk to others.

The Court answered YES to that question.

In that case, a 19 year-old, living with his parents, had friends over his home and alcohol was consumed. Two of the young adults, aged 19 and 20, left the party severely intoxicated. The 20 year-old was driving (with a blood alcohol concentration twice the legal limit) and lost control of his vehicle and crashed the car. The passenger tragically died at the scene. The passenger’s estate brought claims against the driver, his parent, and the liquor store, where they purchased the alcohol. In turn, the liquor store filed a third-party complaint against the 19 year old man who held the party.

Supreme Court Justice Albin stated that an underaged social host does not operate in a “liability-free zone” regardless of whether he owns or leases the home where the alcohol is consumed or bought the alcohol. The Court held:
“The Court rejects any interpretation of the [Social Host Liability] Act that would lead to the absurd conclusion that the Legislature intended to create a liability-free zone for underage social hosts who knowingly provide alcohol to visibly intoxicated minors and underage adults . . . . We now hold that an underage adult defendant may be held civilly liable to a third-party drunk driving victim.”
The Court concluded that an underage social host has a duty not to knowingly provide or allow self-service of alcohol to a visibly intoxicated guest and to take reasonable steps to prevent him or her from operating a motor vehicle.

For those of you who might be interested in knowing more about New Jersey’s Social Host Liability Act:
The Act affords a third party injured by a social host’s intoxicated guest — “a person who has attained the legal age to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages” — a cause of action against the social host if:
(1) The social host willfully and knowingly provided alcoholic beverages either:
(a) To a person who was visibly intoxicated in the social host’s presence; or
(b) To a person who was visibly intoxicated under circumstances manifesting reckless disregard of the consequences as affecting the life or property of another; and
(2) The social host provided alcoholic beverages to the visibly intoxicated person under circumstances which created an unreasonable risk of foreseeable harm to the life or property of another, and the social host failed to exercise reasonable care and diligence to avoid the foreseeable risk; and
(3) The injury arose out of an accident caused by the negligent operation of a vehicle by the visibly intoxicated person who was provided alcoholic beverages by a social host.
[N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.6(b).]

Michael Raff, Esq.