Nowhere in the country is it legal to sell booze to minors, and it’s certainly not legal for anyone – under 21 or otherwise – to get behind the wheel of a vehicle while intoxicated.
Yet it happens all the time, often resulting in serious injury or even death. As Vero Beach personal injury lawyers, the question we often ask in this cases, beyond the obvious fault of the drunken driver, is whether a third party may be liable for providing the alcohol in the first place.
Like most states, Florida has something called a “Dram Shop Act.” Florida Statute 768.125 allows for third-party liability in drunk driving cases if that third party unlawfully sold or furnished a minor alcohol or knowingly served alcohol to a person who is “habitually addicted” to alcohol.
In a recent case,Ennabe v. Manosa, reviewed by the California Supreme Court, the question was whether the parents of a teen who threw a party in their home without their knowledge or consent could be held liable for the drunk driving death caused by an underage attendees. Ultimately, the supreme court ruled in the affirmative.
According to court records, the primary defendant in this case was under the age of 21 when she threw a party at her parent’s vacant rental residence. This gathering was conducted without their knowledge or consent. Word of the party was spread mostly by word-of-mouth, and some 60 people ended up attending, the vast majority being under-21.
The host paid $60 for liquor and beer. She also supplied cups and cranberry juice. Two of her friends also put money toward the purchase of additional alcohol. When guests started to arrive, a sign was placed outside. Those who weren’t known directly by the host were asked to pay an “admission fee” of $3 to $5, which would go to the purchase of more alcohol.
At some point, two young men arrived as the host’s invited guests, and both were reportedly intoxicated upon arrival. One of those young men started causing problems with other guests and was asked to leave. He and his friend were walking out together, when another guest spit on the friend. As the other young man got into his vehicle and began to drive away, the friend gave chase to the person who spit on him. As he did so, his friend struck him with his vehicle. The friend was critically injured and later died.
The decedent’s parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the host of the party and her parents, alleging general negligence, premises liability and liability under a portion of state law that allows a liability claim against anyone who suffers injury as a result of the sale or furnishing of alcohol to a minor or intoxicated person.
Defendants moved for a summary judgment, claiming they weren’t liable under the state’s Dram Shop law, nor were they liable for the other acts of negligence alleged.
The Court of Appeal affirmed, but the California Supreme Court reversed. Citing case law, the court noted that a noncommercial social host who serves alcohol to someone who is obviously intoxicated with the knowledge that he or she intends to drive a vehicle while intoxicated fails to act with reasonable care.
By strict definition, the host had “sold” alcohol to the driver of that vehicle just before the crash.
Further, as owners of the property where events occurred, her parents too could be held liable.
The state supreme court decision allows the plaintiff’s case to move forward, and it was remanded back to the lower court for further proceeding.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
Ennabe v. Manosa, Feb. 20, 2014, California Supreme Court
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Weak Enforcement of Florida’s Texting and Driving Laws, Jan. 28, 2014, Vero Beach Personal Injury Lawyer Blog