As the school year draws to a close, parents of students begin to plan parties for proms and graduations. Hosting such a party can mean liability for parents, however, if the parents serve alcohol to their underage party guests.
Under Wisconsin law, it is illegal to procure, sell, dispense or give away alcohol to anyone under the legal drinking age of 21 who is not accompanied by a parent, guardian or spouse who is over 21. In addition, an adult cannot intentionally encourage or contribute to underage drinking. The penalty for violating this law is a $500 fine. Repeat offenders may face a misdemeanor conviction, which could result in a fine, jail time, or possibly both. Felony charges can be brought against anyone who provides alcohol to someone under 18, who then dies or suffers great bodily injury as a result.
In addition to the criminal consequences, there may be civil liability for adults who provide alcohol to underage persons. For example, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin held that a social host is liable for injuries caused by an underage person to whom the social host served alcohol. In that case, parents holding a high school graduation party served beer to a 17-year-old motorcyclist, who later struck a parked car, injuring the motorcyclist’s passenger. The Supreme Court held that the parents were liable for the motorcycle passenger’s injuries.
By contrast, the Supreme Court has held that social hosts who were aware of underage drinking on their property, but did not provide the alcohol, are not liable for injuries caused by an underage drinker. In response to this decision, several municipalities in Wisconsin have passed ordinances imposing fines on those who host underage drinking parties, even if the host did not provide the alcohol.
The Wisconsin personal injury lawyers of Samster, Konkel & Safran encourage parents and others not to host underage drinking parties. If you or someone you know has been injured a result of a negligent act by an intoxicated person, contact us for a free online case evaluation.