Your teenager approaches you wanting to have a party, and your emotions are obviously mixed. On the one hand, it’s great that he or she is approaching you about it, and not trying to sneak it by when you and your husband are out of town. It’s better to know about this and be there to keep an eye out, right? But on the other hand, you know that you can’t be everywhere at once, and there’s a good chance that something will happen that you can’t control. Teenagers are confused, sex-crazed lunatics, driven by the need to fit in, and drugs, alcohol and inappropriate behavior could still happen even right there under your nose. But if your teen is graduating high school or celebrating some landmark achievement, how can you deny them a party? So you go ahead with it, fingers crossed, hoping for the best but ready for the worst.
What could that be? Well, if you’re a mother it’s all too easy to come up with a likely set of circumstances. Perhaps, regardless of your best intentions, some of your teenager’s friends sneak booze into the party. They drink it without your knowledge, leave, and then get into a car crash. It’s a horrible feeling, one that’s all too familiar to parents who have found themselves in that position. Aside from the emotional shock and impact on your teen, what else could go wrong? Well, for one, what happens if you end up being sued for negligence by the parents of the kids who got into the accident? Are you actually liable for that?
Generally speaking, no individual can be held liable for a negligent action performed by another individual. So on the surface, you should be in the clear. But there are a few exceptions to the rule. What you need to understand is that you can be held liable if it is shown that you had some sort of control over the actions of that third party. Of course, it’s not like you held those kids down and poured booze down their throats. In fact, you didn’t buy it, didn’t condone it and did your best to make sure it had no place at the party. Now,if you did provide alcohol for the guests at the party that were of drinking age, you could be in trouble. In those cases, you will be considered the social host. Rules governing liability for the social host differ based on your state of residence, so make sure you check in with the local laws before organizing the party.
The problem is, even if you stood firm that the teens couldn’t drink at your house it may not help you in a court of law with a jury looking at the ‘victim’ with pity. Additionally, you have a responsibility to supervise the driving-age guests at the party who are under eighteen. Depending on the state, you could be held liable for these kids, as they were ‘entrusted’ into your care by their parents. If you are at all concerned, or sense there may be alcohol floating around, the best idea is to set up carpools, or double-check each teenager before they hit the road.
On top of those common sense efforts, you may actually be protected by your homeowner’s insurance. Many policies will cover that situation, as could your automotive policy. If a situation does arise where you are being sued, make sure you check with your policy before responding. If you don’t have a policy like that, check out www.publicliabilityinsurance.org for some affordable options. And if you want to be absolutely safe, simply don’t have alcohol at parties where minors will also be. If it’s a large affair and can’t imagine putting all the adults through a booze-free event, consider renting out a banquet hall, which will place the liability in somebody else’s hands.