Serving underage party guests may result in civil and criminal liability in California.

Your Responsibility As a Host This Holiday Season

The holiday season is upon us, and with that comes a lot of parties.  Many times, these parties involve alcohol, which can add to the merriness — but can also result in legal liability.

In California, anyone who hosts a party can be held liable for the actions of any underage drinkers who cause harm to others.  The California Supreme Court has ruled that even a fellow underage host can be held responsible when she serves alcohol to other teens who ultimately harm other people.  The key in that case was that the college student who hosted the party had charged guests a small admission fee to help fund the party, and that the driver in question was under the age of 21.  This made her liable for the actions of one of her party guests who got drunk, drove, and caused an accident that killed another person.

As a general rule, California law does not impose liability on a person who hosts a party where a person drives drunk and causes an injury — with one major exception.  A 2011 update to this law imposed liability on anyone who knowingly furnishes alcohol to a minor who later caused harm to another person. This is another indication of  how seriously the state takes the problems of underage drinking as well as drinking and driving. If someone serves a minor alcohol, they may not only be charged with a crime, but he or she may also be held civilly liable for any injuries that minor causes as a result of his or her drunken actions.

What does this mean for you this holiday season?  First and foremost, it means that you should be a responsible host.  Even if you aren’t held legally responsible for a drunk party guest’s actions, you do not want to do anything that would lead to another person getting killed or injured.  Consider offering guests a place to sleep if you suspect that they have had too much to drink and are unable to drive safely.  You should take particular care when it comes to minors.  Never serve alcohol to anyone under the age of 21, and take steps to make sure that you know the ages of everyone attending your social events.  Finally, do not charge anyone for alcohol; doing so could turn you from a private individual into a “dram shop” (a business that sells alcohol), leading to legal liability.

Knowing your legal rights and responsibilities when it comes to hosting a party can help protect you from legal liability and keep our roads safe.  And if you or a loved one has been hurt by a drunk driver — particularly by one who is under the age of 21 — contact the Law Offices of Larry H. Parker today at 800-333-0000 or  We will thoroughly investigate your case and advise you of your legal options, which may include filling a lawsuit against the person who may have served the driver alcohol.  We offer free initial consultations and we never charge a fee unless we get money for you.