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Social host laws growing in popularity: Part I

Teens all over America have transitioned from parties hosted on warm summer nights to parties held after football games and after challenging exams have left them ready for a little relaxation. The idea that teenagers should avoid party-going behavior which might lead to DUI charges is truly a no-brainer. However, the idea that parents might be held liable if teenagers get drunk at their residence and subsequently drive under the influence is foreign to many.

Laws that hold adults liable for teenagers who get intoxicated on their property are called "social host" laws. The logic behind these laws argues that because teenagers are underage, any adult who facilitates their illegal behavior may be held liable. Under this theory, adults are deemed ultimately responsible for the actions of those too young to fully appreciate their own decision making.

Social hosts may be held liable for underage drinking and teenage DUI accidents whether or not the adults themselves were present at the time of the drinking. In one recent case, a woman was charged in violation of these laws after (allegedly) permitting her daughter to have a party during which alcohol would be served to minors.

The penalties for violating social host laws can be either civil or criminal and vary from state to state. Most often, adults can be charged if they permit teenagers to drink while on their property, even if no injuries result from the drinking. At present, 28 states have social host laws of some kind on their books.

How are social host laws evolving and what does it mean for parents of teenagers in Wisconsin? Please check back later this week as we continue our discussion.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "Party Laws Put Hosts on Hook," Jennifer Levitz, Sept. 11, 2012

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