Hosts who serve liquor to teens may be liable for 3rd party injuries

Throwing a party means more than inviting the right number of guests and making sure you have enough snacks and places to sit. It is also the host's responsibility to make sure all the guests get home safely. In other words, not to let anyone drink and drive.

This a moral obligation for most people, because nobody wants any of their friends to get into a drunk driving crash when it could have been avoided. But it might also be a legal duty, depending on the laws of your state.

Social Host Laws

Most states, including Ohio, have laws establishing "social host liability." This term means that an adult who provides alcohol to someone under 21 could be legally liable if the minor later injures or kills somebody while intoxicated.

This is a change from common law, which specifically held that a third party social host was not liable for injuries caused by alcohol the host served to a guest. However, exceptions existed, such as if the host knew or should have known that the underage guest would be driving under the influence later.

Most social host laws make the host liable for "furnishing or serving" alcohol. To "serve" alcohol is to "knowingly and affirmatively deliver" drinks; to "furnish" alcohol is simply to make it available. Consider pouring drinks for a group of teenagers, as opposed to buying alcohol or giving your underage son or daughter access to the liquor cabinet. Either way, the host may be liable for all resulting injuries.

Teen drinking

Underage drinking remains a serious problem in this country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that high school students drink and drive 2.4 million times a month. That is a dangerously high figure, despite representing a 54 percent drop since 1991. Minors driving drunk can be very deadly: in 2010, one in five teen drivers involved in fatal car crashes had alcohol in their systems.

Just how common teenage drinking and driving is depends on the state. Ohio is among the higher practitioners of this dangerous behavior, according to the CDC, which puts it in 9.2 - 11 percent range, but other states had up to 14.5 percent of teens self-report drinking and driving. Given that these numbers are based on self-reporting, the actual rates could be far higher.

Take action

If you have been in a car accident with a drunk driver, you may have more than one person to seek compensation from. If the driver is underage and got the alcohol from a third party, that person may also be legally liable for your medical bills, lost wages and other damages.