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Am I Liable if a Teenager Drinks in My House and Gets Into an Accident?

With the holidays approaching, many people will host parties for families and friends. If your parties include anyone under the age of 21, you should take special care to ensure they are not receiving or consuming alcoholic beverages of any kind. While you might think it is safe to allow teenagers to drink under adult supervision, it is strictly forbidden by Tennessee law. And if a teenager leaves your house, drives drunk, and gets into a car accident, the victims may be able to hold you legally responsible.

16-Year-Old Car Accident Victim Recovers Millions in Damages

The Tennessee Supreme Court addressed this issue in a landmark 2005 decision. The case involved a 16-year-old female who attended a friend’s birthday party. The friend’s parents hosted the party at their house. The father was the only person of legal drinking age present. Although the father did not purchase or serve alcohol to the minors, he “fully expected” his daughter’s friends to do so. He therefore instructed his daughter anyone drinking should spend the night and not attempt to drive home.

The 16-year-old came to the party with her twin sister and a male friend. The sister illegally purchased beer and brought it to the party, which the male friend consumed. Later, as he was driving the victim home, he “failed to see a stop sign and slammed into a guardrail.” The victim suffered serious injuries in the accident. She was in a coma for several weeks and continues to suffer from permanent neurological damage.

The victim sued the driver as well as the father who hosted the party. A Tennessee jury later determined the driver was 70 percent at fault and the father 15 percent. The victim was deemed 15 percent negligent as she also consumed alcohol before getting into the car. The jury also awarded about $4 million in damages to the victim.

On appeal, the Tennessee Supreme Court addressed the host father’s argument he “neither owed nor assumed a duty of care” to the victim and therefore should not have been held even partially liable for the accident. The justices rejected this argument, holding “public policy considerations”—i.e., the state’s ban on serving alcohol to minors—“favor imposing a duty to act for the protection of minors where such a duty might be absent when dealing with adults.” This meant the father “had a special relationship to his minor guests,” and was therefore legally obligated to ensure none of the teenagers left his house while intoxicated.

The Court noted the father “did not have an absolute duty to control his guests,” but he did have to exercise “ordinary care.” For example, he might have contacted an intoxicated child’s parents or even the police to prevent them from driving home drunk. By his own admission, the father failed to even monitor the party after a certain hour, having fallen asleep. This was enough, the Court said, to impose liability.

Need Advice from an Accident Attorney?

Obviously, you should never allow minors to drink in your house. But if your child has been injured due to another parent’s neglect, it is important you speak with a qualified Tennessee personal injury lawyer who can advise you of your rights. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, in Knoxville or Clinton if you would like to speak with someone today.

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