As the annual tradition of the High School Prom quickly approaches, the popularity of the “after prom party” continues to grow in Pennsylvania and New Jersey where our criminal defense law firm represents persons charged with crimes. In many cases, these post or after Prom events are viewed with greater anticipation than the actual event itself. High School students want to attend these “after parties” and many view it as part of their overall high school experience.
Why a Parent Would Want To Host An After Prom Party?
Parents, concerned about the safety of their children, have to balance safety with their own personal philosophies and trust that their son or daughter will conduct themselves appropriately despite obvious temptations (drugs, underage drinking, DUI, DWI). This dilemma has caused many parents to host “after parties” at their homes or other venues complete with food, drinks, and entertainment. We know of at least one situation where parents actually engaged in a bidding war over a specific venue!
Parents host these events with the best of intentions; they want to keep their young adults safe. Parents also want to minimize the possibility that their son or daughter will do something to derail their professional and academic goals that they have spent the last 17-18 years nurturing. Despite these admirable intentions, parents often fail to realize the legal liability associated with these “after parties.”
Dram Shop Liability
While many may have heard or read something about the legal concept known as Dram Shop liability, most believe it is reserved for restaurants, bars or beverage retailers. In most cases, Dram Shop lawsuits occur after a serious car accident or some other incident where injuries are sustained. A successful claim requires that the plaintiff (injured party) establish (1) a minor or visibly intoxicated adult was served alcohol by the defendant (the person who is being sued) in violation of the law; and (2) the defendant’s violation caused the plaintiff’s injuries or damages. In additional to actual or compensatory damages (medical bills, pain, suffering, loss of consortium etc.), restaurants, bars or beverage retailers are subject to punitive damages (a financial award against the liable party intended to punish it for wrongdoing.)
Social Host Liability & Pennsylvania’s Criminal Code
An extension of the Dram Shop Liability is Social Host Liability. In Pennsylvania, adults who serve alcohol at private functions are "social hosts." If the host serves alcohol to a minor and the minor is injured or the minor injures someone else because of that intoxication, the social host may be liable to pay money damages to the injured person.
It is very important to understand Social Host Liability only applies to adults who serve alcohol to minors in Pennsylvania. Adults are responsible for the consequences of their own drinking at these functions. See Congini v. Porterville Valve Co., 470 A.2d 515 (Pa. 1983). New Jersey, however, does not limit lawsuits to social occasions involving minors and a social host is responsible for the actions of an adult who leaves an event intoxicated. Dower v. Gamba, 647A.2d 1364 (N.J. Super. A.D. 1994) (cert denied 658 A.2d 299 (N.J. 1995).
A violation of this law clearly exposes one to civil liability and substantial financial damages but it is also a crime. In Pennsylvania, a person who furnishes alcohol to a minor commits a third degree misdemeanor. A third degree misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $2,500.00. The mandatory minimum fine is $1,000.00. In addition to these penalties, a criminal record could negatively impact employment and other professional opportunities. In New Jersey, this crime is a Disorderly Persons offense with a maximum penalty of 6 months in jail and $1,000.00 fine. Read my article about offenses vs. crimes in New Jersey
If a Parent Really Wants to Host a Party, Here Is What We Recommend
The civil and criminal consequences associated with an uncontrolled after prom party make the short legal answer obvious—don’t have one! If, however, a parent wants to host such an event, we recommend implementing the appropriate safeguards. The prohibition of alcohol and any other substance is clear but even further, secure all over the counter/prescription medications and firearms. You should also avoid sending e-mail or Facebook invites as these can be easily forwarded and you can lose control of potential invitees. We also recommend a strict policy of no re-entry into your home or other venue after leaving. Finally, we recommend speaking with your insurance agent regarding your homeowners’ policy, and specifically its limitations. These recommendations extend to any social event.
If you would like more information about this issue or you or your loved one is the victim of accident, contact our office today. We will explain the law, your options, and provide you with our professional legal opinion. There is never a charge for an initial consultation. You may or may not have a legal claim but you will leave our office with peace of mind and a firm understanding of your rights.