Minors, Alcohol, Parties at Your Home and The Law

MINORS, ALCOHOL, PARTIES AT YOUR HOME, AND THE LAW

What parent doesn’t want their child to be liked at school? To be the cool kid, whose parents allow him/her to have drinking parties.  Well it’s just that sort of thinking that may get you in a lot of trouble.

I’ve traced the history of the law in Pennsylvania dealing with the service of alcohol to those under the age of 21 years and the Social Host laws, dealing with liability to those that permit or host an alcohol party for minors.

At first there was no liability in Pennsylvania for service of alcohol to a minor (under the age of 21 years).  Originally, the Superior Court in Simon vs. Shirley, 269 PA. Super. 364, 409 A.2d 1365 (1979) held that mere service by a liquor establishment of alcoholic beverages to a minor was not sufficient to render the licensee liable.  The Superior Court in that case indicated visible intoxication was needed.  However, thereafter, in a series of cases by Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Simon vs. Shirley was overruled and service to a minor was sufficient to prove liability.

Then in Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Congini vs. Porterville Value Company, 504 PA. 157 470 A.2d 515 (1983) found that social hosts may be liable for supplying minors with alcohol.  In this case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined that social hosts serving alcohol to minors to the point of intoxication is negligent per se and can be held liable for injuries resulting from the minor’s intoxication.  The Court found that the social host would be responsible for injuries caused to the minor himself or to third parties. The court explained the reason for having a different rule for minors as opposed to adults served alcohol by a social host.

However, our legislator has made a legislative judgment those persons less than twenty-one yearsof age are incompetent to handle alcohol. Under Section 6308 of the Crimes Code 18 Pa. C.S.Section 6308, a person ‘less than twenty-one years of age’ commits a summary offense if he ‘attempts to purchase, purchases, consumes, possesses or transports any alcohol, liquor or malt or brewed  beverages’.  Furthermore, under the Section 306 of the Crimes Code, 18 Pa. C.S. Section 306, an adult who furnishes liquor to a minor would be liable as an accomplice to the same extent as the offending minor.   The legislative judgment compels a different result from Klein, for here we are not dealing with the ordinary able bodied men.  Rather, we are confronted with persons who are, at least in the eyes of the law, incompetent to handle the affect of alcohol. Id. at 517.

By 1985, in Matthews vs. Konieczny, 515 PA. 106, 527 A.2d 508 (1987) and Mancuso vs. Bradshaw, 338 Pa. Super. 328, 487 A.2d 990 (1985), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that: (1) The service of alcohol beverages to minors is a violation of the liquor code and formed the basis for a finding of negligence with regard to those subsequently affected by the service, even if beverages were served to one other than the ultimate actor in the ensuing automobile accident, i.e. the driver; and (2) the statutory “immunity” found at 47 P.S. 4-497 applied only to “legally competent” customers and did not, therefore, insulate a licensee from liability resulting from sales to minors, thereby negating the necessity of showing that the minor customer was visibly intoxicated at the time of purchase.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Orner vs. Malick, 432 Pa. 580, 515 Pa. 132, 527 A.2d 521 (1987), further interpreted the decision in  Congini to hold that the service of intoxicating liquors to a minor by a social host is negligence per se, even if the liquors are not served to the  point of intoxication.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the Superior Court, in Orner, had narrowly interpreted  Congini to indicate that the plaintiff had to prove service to the point of intoxication before liability would be imposed on a social host.  Instead, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Orner rejected such a narrow reading of Congini and made it clear that any service of alcohol to a minor can yield liability and again emphasized the reasons for such a strict rule.  Orner vs. Malick, supra, 527 A.2d at 521.  However, as noted above, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the Court narrowly read its prior holding and, instead, found that the holding in Congini was to be read that any service of alcohol to a minor can yield liability.  Thus, the social host of the plaintiff could be liable.

By 1988, The Pennsylvania Superior Court in Jefferies vs. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 371 Pa. Super.12, 537 A.2d 355 (1988) established a tripartite test to determine whether a social host would be subject to liability for injuries arising out of a minor’s intoxication.  The Court outlined the following test to be used:  (1) the defendant must have intended to act in such a way as to furnish, agree to furnish or promote the furnishing of alcohol to a minor, (2) the defendant must of acted in a way which did furnish, agree to furnish, or promote the furnishing Of alcohol to a minor; and (3) the defendant’s act must have been a substantial factor in furnishing, agreement to furnish, or the promotion of alcohol to the minor.  The Court also noted that factors relevant to determining whether the defendants’ act was a substantial factor in the commission of the tort included the nature of  the  act incurred, the amount of assistance given, the defendant’s presence or absence at the time of the tort, the defendant’s relation to the tortfeasor and foresee ability of the harm that occurred. Id.at 358 citing Section 876 of the Restatement (Second) Torts.

After Jefferies, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court again addressed the issue of social host liability in Alumni Association vs.  Sullivan, 524 Pa. 356 Pa. 572 A.2d 1209. In Alumni, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that the social hosts liability extends only to persons who “knowingly furnish” alcohol to minors. Consequently, the court refused to impose liability on a university and the national fraternity for injuries suffered by a minor after an alcohol party held in a dormitory and hosted by a fraternity’s local chapter. The court refused to impose liability because there was no indication that either the fraternity or the university was involved in the planning or serving, supplying or purchasing the alcohol. The Pennsylvania Superior followed this reasoning in Millard vs. Osbourne, 416 Pa. Supra 475, 611 A.2d 715 and Kapres vs. Heller, 1992 Pa. Super. Lexis 2310, 612 A.2d 987 (1992).

The Pennsylvania Superior Court in Thomas vs. Duquesne Light Company, 396 Pa. Super 1, 545 A.2d 289 (1988) held that a beer distributor’s duty to refrain from selling alcohol to minors can be breached by an indirect sale to a minor through an adult intermediary if it is known or should have been known by the licensee that the alcohol was being purchased for the use of a minor.  Then in Reber vs. The Commonwealth PA Liquor and Control Board, 101 PA, Cmmnwlth 397, 516 A.2d 440 (1986) in which the Commonwealth Court held that the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board also owes a duty not to furnish liquor to minors either directly or through likely intermediaries. A breach of this duty will yield liability if the breach is the cause of the injuries suffered.

By 1994, as to the liability of a minor social hosts to another minor, the Pennsylvania SupremeCourt in Kapres vs. Heller, 536 Pa. 550,  640 A.2d 888 (1994), held that a minor cannot be liablefor serving alcohol to another minor. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed that the Superior’s Court decision in Kapres.  In Commonwealth of Pa vs. Lawson, where the court noted that although liability did not exist in a civil case, a minor could be criminally liable for furnishing alcohol to another minor.

Gladys Wiles

Representing Clients Injured in Drunk Driving Accidents

It’s bad enough that you or a loved one are involved in a serious motor vehicle accident and injured due to the negligence of another. The emotional and physical trauma you experience as a result of the accident is multiplied when you discover that the negligent conduct of the other driver and your injuries were as a result of the irresponsible consumption of alcohol on the part of the other driver.

At Snyder & Wiles, PC, our dram shop liability attorneys understand the specific emotional components and legal aspects of drunk driving accidents. Car accidents occur in a split second, but cause tragic and permanent injuries lasting a lifetime. Even more tragic is the needless wrongful death of a loved one due to a bar, liquor store, restaurant or social club serving alcohol to an intoxicated person and never once considering the consequences of their actions.