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Court Ruling Expands Social Host Liability in California

In many states across the country, individuals who host private parties where alcohol is served can face liability as “social hosts.” For example, hosts may be held accountable for injuries suffered by a third party if a guest causes a drunk driving accident on the way home.

While California once allowed such personal injury suits, its current social host law is quite narrow. Liability only arises if a parent, guardian, or another adult knowingly furnishes alcoholic beverages at his or her residence to a person whom he or she knows, or should have known, to be under 21 years of age.

However, in a recent ruling, the California Supreme Court held that social hosts who charge a fee for admission could be held accountable for injuries suffered by an intoxicated underage guest or third party. The state’s highest court reasoned that asking guests to pay a cover charge is akin to the sale of alcohol. Under state law, any person who “sells alcoholic beverages (or causes them to be sold) to an obviously intoxicated minor loses his or her civil immunity and can be liable for resulting injuries or death.”

In this case, Jessica Manosa (Manosa) hosted a party at a vacant rental residence owned by her parents without their consent. The vast majority of guests were, like Manosa, under 21 years of age. To defer the costs of alcohol, uninvited guests were charged an admission fee of $3 to $5 per person. One of the attendees, Andrew Ennabe, 19, was killed when he was run over by a drunk driver who had been asked to leave the party. The driver, who was charged admission, admitted to consuming alcohol before he arrived and was visibly intoxicated, according to witnesses.

“We should err on the side of permitting liability, for the possibility of liability may provide a strong deterrent against the provision of alcohol to minors, especially those who are already obviously intoxicated,” Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar wrote for the court.

As San Diego personal injury lawyers, we also hope that the social host liability decision serves as a deterrent. As we have previously discussed on this blog, traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers across the United States, many of which involve alcohol.