Massachusetts Social Host Law: Teenagers and Even Parents Can Face Criminal Charges and Financial Losses for Underage Drinking

DW-250.jpgDuring prom and graduation season, students should be enjoying their friends and last days of high school. But this time can turn painful if you or your teenager allow underage drinking in your home.

Breakstone, White & Gluck cares about the safety of teenagers on the road and offers these tips and reminders about the Massachusetts Social Host Law, M.G.L. c. 138, § 34.

“Very few parents realize just how much is at stake when they allow underage drinking in their home,” said Attorney David W. White of Breakstone, White & Gluck. “You may have to live with the painful knowledge that you contributed to a car accident which caused serious injury or death. Plus, you may have to serve jail time and could even lose your home to a lawsuit.”

Under the Social Host Law, it is a criminal offense for parents and teenagers to provide alcohol to anyone who is underage for consumption in their home. It is also illegal to allow a minor to bring alcohol from elsewhere to drink in your home.

You can also be charged if underage guests are drinking at other places you control, such as a hotel room, a vacation house, or a rental property.

If you are charged under the Massachusetts Social Host Law, you could face a fine up to $2,000, imprisonment for up to a year or both. You may also face a civil lawsuit. Your homeowner’s insurance policy may or may not cover the full amount.

You could also be held civilly liable if you provide your teen alcohol to drink at someone else’s home and they later injure someone while driving.

These Cases Really Do Happen
Teenagers and adults are charged criminally for violating the Social Host Law every year in Massachusetts. For example, in December 2015, a Saugus couple – two teachers – were sentenced to jail for hosting an August 2013 party at their home where teens were drinking. Police learned about the party when a 16-year-old became ill and had to be treated at a local hospital.

The two teachers – one an Everett High School teacher – were sentenced to 30 days in jail, with the balance suspended for two years. During that time, they must stay drug and alcohol free and perform 50 hours of community service.

There have been many other criminal cases in Massachusetts. There have also been civil cases.

Attorney David White provided legal commentary on one 2014 case for Fox 25 TV News. A 23-year-old man was ordered to pay $2 million to the parents of a Salem State College student who consumed alcohol at a party he hosted. She was killed in a car accident after she left, in a car driven by her boyfriend who had been also been drinking at the party. Read this coverage.

Here are a few safety tips for you and your teen:

Tell Your Teen There is Zero Tolerance for Underage Drinking. Tell your teen there is zero tolerance for violating the Social Host Law or any underage drinking. Explain what is at stake for them and your whole family.

Help Your Teenager Plan. Help your teenager develop a safe after-prom or graduation plan. Some high schools or community groups organize events as safe havens where there will be no alcohol.

Have Your Teen Commit to Safety. Ask your teen to sign a pledge not to drink or get in the car with others who have been drinking. Here is one pledge from Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD). You can find others online or create your own.

Also, tell them they must always stick with the schedule when they are out with friends and call you beforehand about changes or unplanned stops.

Safety Code.Finally, have a safety code you can use with your teenager. If they call you during the evening, you can ask them if they feel safe or want to come home. That way you, as the parent, can take the blame for prohibiting any change of plans. Your teen can save face by “blaming” you and telling their friends they cannot go out this time.

About Breakstone, White & Gluck
Boston personal injury attorneys at Breakstone, White & Gluck have over 100 years combined experience handling serious car accidents. If you have been injured, it is important to learn your rights. For a free legal consultation, contact us at 800-379-1244 or 671-723-7676 or use our contact form.