Plaintiff, age 19, attended an after-prom party at the home of defendant’s son, who was a junior in high school and a minor. The party was held in a pole barn on the defendant-father’s property, which was located a short distance from the house. Alcohol was served at the party. The alcohol was brought in by other guests. A fight broke out at the party and Plaintiff was seriously injured by another guest, who was 24 years old. The guest attacked the plaintiff with a baseball bat, causing injury to the plaintiff’s head. The evidence showed that the son’s mother was not home at the time of the party and the son’s father (defendant) was asleep in the house at the time of the party. There was no evidence that the mother or father knew that alcohol was going to be served, as the alcohol was brought in by other guests.
Plaintiff filed suit against the defendant-parents under the legal theory of “social host liability,” MCL 750.141a, which provides that owners of premises shall not knowingly allow a minor to consume or possess alcohol at a social gathering on their premises. The trial court entered summary judgment for the parents, and the plaintiff appealed.
The Court of Appeals affirmed judgment for the parents. The Court of Appeals noted that social host liability cannot be premised on the serving of alcohol to adults (persons over the age of 18). Since the attacker was 24 years old and an adult, social host liability can not be asserted. In addition, although there are some contra cases, the Court of Appeals here held that there is no exception to this rule for criminal acts, i.e., when the injury to the plaintiff is caused by an assault or battery by the wrongdoer, as opposed to, for example, the wrongdoer’s drunken driving.
As another grounds for its holding, the Court of Appeals held that here was insufficient evidence that the mother or father had knowledge that minors were consuming alcohol at the party. Knowledge is an essential factor in MCL 750.141a; the statute prohibits a person/host from “knowingly” allowing a minor to consume alcohol at a social gathering. Here, the mother was not home at the time of the party, and evidence showed that the father was asleep during the party.
What this means for social hosts: If you host a party at which both minors and adults attend, and alcohol is served and a guest is injured by an intoxicated adult, no liability will lie against the hosts under the social host liability statute. The statute solely prohibits furnishing alcohol to a minor at a gathering. In addition, if a guest’s injury is caused by a fight at the party, no liability will lie because the social liability act doesn’t cover criminal acts. The other important point of the case is that for liability to lie, the person hosting the party (i.e., the parent) has to have knowledge that alcohols is being served. This means that the parent either had actual knowledge, or circumstances exist which would cause a reasonable person to conclude that the parent had knowledge. Here, because the party was held in a pole barn on the defendant-father’s property and since he was asleep during the party, there was insufficient evidence of knowledge. However, had the father actually gone to the pole barn, observed the drinking, and went back to the house without taking corrective action, it could be said that he violated the statute.
You can read the entire opinion here.
Authored by Barbara A. Assendelft