In our last post, we began a discussion about social host laws. These laws, which have been enacted in various forms in approximately 28 states, were passed largely as an effort to reduce the prevalence of DUI accidents involving underage drinkers.
Under social host laws, adults may be fined civilly or criminally if underage persons drink with their permission while on their property. However, in addition to the 28 states that currently enforce social host laws, some states impose penalties only if injuries result from underage drinking on an adult's property.
An expert on the subject recently told the Wall Street Journal that "This is a relatively rapidly changing area and it's going in one direction, trending toward more liability." Rather than holding teenagers responsible for their illegal behavior, states are increasingly placing the burden of liability on the shoulders of adults who permit the behavior in the first place.
Opponents of social host laws argue that parents can miss signs of underage drinking and should not be held liable for "permitting" the behavior to occur. In addition, many parents would simply rather have their kids drink while "safe" at home if they are going to engage in that behavior despite parental wishes.
These laws are particularly challenging to navigate for Wisconsin parents due to the state's unique drinking laws. When minors can drink in bars with their parents' consent under certain circumstances but can't do the same at home, the laws seem unbalanced.
Regardless of this disparity, social laws seem to be getting stricter rather than more lenient. As a result, it is very important for parents of underage men and women to be very careful when alcohol is in the house. If and when underage kids decide to drink, parents may be held liable even if no injuries result.
Source: Wall Street Journal, "Party Laws Put Hosts on Hook," Jennifer Levitz, Sept. 11, 2012