If your child is involved in a DUI, your first reaction is alarm and fear for their safety. As the legal consequences set in, however, you will also need to consider the financial cost of the incident. A single DUI in California can easily cost over $10,000 in fines and fees. If there was an accident, you will be liable for injuries and damages as well. But you may not have to face that liability alone.
That’s because California has “social host” laws that hold adults responsible when they supply alcohol to someone under 21. Depending on where your child got the alcohol involved in their DUI, the person who gave it to them may be liable for the costs of the accident.
How do social host laws work?
Social host laws have a long history. At a bar, bartenders have a legal duty not to over-serve their patrons. If they continue to make drinks for someone who is obviously intoxicated, and that person goes on to injure himself or someone else, it’s at least partly due to the bartender’s bad judgment. This is why most states penalize alcohol vendors who sell to drunken customers.
If someone holds a party in their home, however, they are the bartender. Even if they are not directly serving drinks, they are the one who supplies the alcohol and has the power to cut someone off or ask them to leave. That means they have some of the same legal duty that the bartender has.
As a result, when an adult provides alcohol to someone under 21, and they get into a DUI, that adult shares liability for any damages.
Under what circumstances is someone a “social host”?
At the most extreme, it could mean intentionally supplying alcohol to a teenager’s party. But it’s often something subtle, like an adult who is casual about monitoring their beer cooler when teens are around.
A person may be considered a social host if any of the following is true:
- They serve alcohol to anyone under 21
- They don’t directly serve the alcohol, but allow someone under 21 to have it
- They help someone under 21 purchase alcohol for their own use
- They have alcohol in their home that your child or their friends end up taking, even if they never gave permission
This last point is particularly important. When an adult possesses alcohol, it’s their duty to have it secured so that children or teens can’t access it. If your child’s friends take a bottle of whiskey out of someone’s cabinet, that person could be liable for the consequences.
What are the penalties for being a “social host” to people under 21?
California’s social host law is not a criminal law. In other words, no one will be arrested and sentenced for being a social host. The main point of the law is to simply establish liability.
These laws can be a big benefit to you, the parent. That’s because you would normally be liable for the entire cost of your teen’s DUI, but if someone else provided them with alcohol, that person now shares responsibility. The same may apply if a liquor store sold your child alcohol without checking for an ID.
Your teen goes to a party at a friend’s house. The friend’s parents aren’t home, but they never lock their liquor cabinet, and the garage cooler is usually stocked with beer. The house has gotten a reputation as a party place for this reason.
Someone offers your child a beer, and refills their cup several times. When curfew approaches, your child feels a little dizzy, but they don’t want to let you know they’ve been drinking so they try to drive home. On the way they get distracted and hit a parked car. The resulting police investigation triggers underage DUI penalties.
You are now on the hook for damages to two cars: your child’s, and the parked car they hit. The total goes above your insurance policy maximum. Rather than paying it out of pocket, you may be able to seek the money from the parents who left their alcohol unattended.
Has your child been charged with DUI? We can connect you with an experienced Los Angeles DUI lawyer and get you a FREE consultation. Fill out the form to the right or call (310) 896-2724 and get your free consultation today.