Adults who serve alcohol to minors or allow underage drinkers to imbibe on their property need to understand that in Florida, they might be held liable for any resulting injuries.
Hollywood injury lawyers are aware of many cases in which parents hosted parties where underage drinking took place, followed by a crash, followed by a lawsuit wherein the parents were found to be negligent and held responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in damages.
However, injuries may not solely be in the form of car accidents, as the recent case of Stafford v. Roadway. This was a social host liability lawsuit that went before the Connecticut Supreme Court, which was tasked with weighing whether an adult who allowed an underage person to drink in his home should be held liable for burn injuries that underage drinker sustained later that night.
Justices ultimately sided in favor of the defense in this case, but that had more to do with Connecticut’s strict rules on comparative fault. Whereas Florida has a pure comparative fault model (which reduces the amount of award based on whatever share of blame the plaintiff holds), Connecticut follows the modified comparative fault rule with a 51 percent bar. Basically, this means if the plaintiff holds 51 percent or more of the blame, he or she isn’t entitled to damages. In this case, the state high court determined the trial court didn’t err in applying the comparative fault model to an underage drinker, as the plaintiff alleged on appeal.
The Stafford case still indicates how approval of underage drinking by an adult can result in legal trouble.
Here, the plaintiff was 20-years-old at the time of the incident. He and a friend attended a barbeque and brought their own alcohol, which a friend had purchased with money they supplied him. While there, the pair also smoked marijuana.
Later, they left the barbeque on foot and went to another friend’s house, where they awaited word on a bonfire to take place that evening. While at the home of this adult friend, later the defendant, the plaintiff continued to consume alcohol, both from his own supply and that another friend gave him. The defendant never served the plaintiff alcohol, but neither did he stop him.
The plaintiff and several friends left about 1.5 hours later for the bonfire. At that point, as several witnesses would later testify, the plaintiff was heavily intoxicated.
While at the bonfire, the other guests noted his intoxication level. They sat him in a chair near the fire. At one point, he began to stand up, and while others cautioned him to be careful, he stumbled and fell into the fire, suffering severe burns.
He later filed a lawsuit against the defendant, alleging he negligently allowed him to drink alcohol in his home and further allowed him to attend a bonfire in that intoxicated state.
The jury later decided in favor of the defendant, finding that although the defendant was negligent, the plaintiff was more than 50 percent responsible for what happened. Additionally, the jury indicated the plaintiff failed to meet the burden of proof indicating the plaintiff recklessly caused his injuries.
The plaintiff appealed on the grounds that contributory negligence should not be allowed as a defense in claims of service of alcohol to a minor.
However, the state supreme court in its review determined that a defendant’s negligence in providing or allowing service of alcohol to an underage person does not negate the minor’s responsibility for actions caused.
It was on this grounds the earlier verdict was affirmed.
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Stafford v. Roadway, June 17, 2014, Connecticut Supreme Court
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New Approach to Fort Lauderdale DUI Crash Prevention Proposed, April 27, 2014, Hollywood Injury Lawyer Blog