With summer approaching and the days growing warmer and longer parties are on the horizon! However – to put a rain cloud over the fun and celebration – it’s also a good time to think about legal liability related to alcohol consumption at your party.
Let’s say you have a Memorial Day party at your home, which is attended by Carlos (45 years
old) and his son Lucas (18 years old). You give alcohol to both Carlos and Lucas (or you see Lucas
getting beer from the fridge). When they leave, they are the drivers of two separate vehicles, and both cause car accidents. Can you be held liable for injuries caused to a third party by Carlos and Lucas?
Short answer is yes you can be held liable for injuries or death caused by Lucas the minor. But, you
cannot be held liable for injuries or death caused by Carlos, the adult.
Colorado’s Dram Shop Liability Act, C.R.S. §12-47-801, sets forth the instances in which social
hosts can be held liable to third parties due to injuries or death resulting from the consumption of
alcohol. The Act provides that a social host can be held liable in only two instances: (1) when the host knowingly served alcohol to a person who was under the age of twenty-one, or, (2) when the host
knowingly provided a person under the age of twenty-one a place to drink alcohol.
Therefore, under Colorado Law, you can only be liable for underage drinking. If an adult drinks
excessively at your home (even if you kept giving him alcohol knowing he was intoxicated) you cannot
be held liable to a third party for injuries caused by the adult. That said, if you have a party at your home and one of your visibly intoxicated guests tries to drive home, please do us all a favor and call him/her a taxi.
So, if you want to be the cool uncle or the nice guy who purchases alcohol for minors – you
might be liable to a third party’s estate when one of those minors gets into a car accident and kills
someone. Similarly, if you want to be the cool parent who allows your minor child to have a party with alcohol at your house – you might be liable when one of your child’s guests gets into a car and causes an accident.
Unfortunately, litigators such as myself, commonly see lawsuits filed because an adult provided
minors alcohol (or a place to drink) and one of the intoxicated minors got into a car and injures or kills someone. The easy lesson to take for this is DO NOT provide alcohol to people under twenty-one and DO NOT allow minors to drink at your home. If you follow these two simple rules you can avoid liability, let your hair down, and fully enjoy your summer get togethers!