With the graduation party season approaching, parents intending to host a party for their high school senior should be mindful that under New York law, they can be held responsible if they furnish alcohol or are aware of or give permission for underage people to drink at their party. Under New York's General Obligations Law §11-100,
Any person who shall be injured . . . by reason of the intoxication or impairment of ability of any person under the age of twenty-one years . . . shall have a right of action to recover actual damages against any person who knowingly causes such intoxication or impairment of ability by unlawfully furnishing to or unlawfully assisting in procuring alcoholic beverages for such person with knowledge or reasonable cause to believe that such person was under the age of twenty-one years.
Essentially, this means that if you host a party where minors are drinking and one of those minors injures themselves or someone else, either at the party or after leaving the party, the person injured can file a lawsuit against you and can be compensated for the harm caused by the minor. It does not matter how the minor causes the injury. It could be in a car accident, a fight or any other manner. What matters is whether you furnished the alcohol or were aware of or gave permission for the alcohol to be served at your party and whether the minor's intoxication contributed to the third-party's injuries. If so, under New York law, you will be held accountable.
The law in New York is not so strict when it comes to adults. While it makes good sense to prevent a guest from becoming intoxicated at your home, New York does not recognize “social host liability” for adults. Other states, like New Jersey, do. In New Jersey, the host of a party can be held liable for providing alcohol to a “visibly intoxicated” person who leaves the party and injures someone in a car accident. In New York, you cannot be held responsible in that circumstance. As the host of the party, you do, however, have an obligation to supervise and control the guests. So if an intoxicated guest injures another guest at your party, you may be held responsible, whether the intoxicated guest is a minor or adult.
In the event that someone is injured at a party you host or if a minor is involved in an accident after drinking alcohol at your home, you should immediately report the incident to your homeowner's insurance company. It is likely that your homeowner's policy will cover you, even if the accident takes place off premises.
Congratulations. Have fun. And be safe.
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