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Carl Kanowsky: Teens, booze and liability

Posted: March 19, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 19, 2014 2:00 a.m.

You and your wife decide, after much heated discussion, to let your eighteen year-old, Mary, have a graduation party at your home for 25 kids. You figure one concession and she should be happy.

Of course you were wrong. Mary wanted to have some beer there. “After all, all the other parents let their kids have at least beer.” You say, “No.” Her response, “Ah, you just don’t want me to be popular. Just forget it.”

After she sulks for the better part of a week, you cave. But you have a brilliant plan to reduce the free flowing booze. You tell Mary that her friends must each chip in $5 to cover the cost of the alcohol.

The party comes and you retreat upstairs to give the kids some privacy. You figure you’re being cool parents.

Mary dutifully collects the entrance fee from each attendee. The evening progresses and more kids show up, some of whom had been attending their own private party with their own liquid refreshments.

One in particular, Bobby, was already pretty far gone when he showed up. His speech was slurred and he stumbled when he walked. And he reeked.

He got his requisite brewski and hung around for about thirty minutes. He got back in his ride and pulled out into the street. Unfortunately he didn’t see Jim and ran straight into him. Tragically, Jim died of his injuries.

Later, Jim’s parents sued not only Bobby but also Mary and you, Mary’s parents. But wait a minute. You thought you were immune from such liability.

After all the California legislature had in 1978 enacted laws that expressly provided, “No social host who furnishes alcoholic beverages to any person shall be held legally accountable for damages suffered by such person, or for injury to the person or property of, or death of, any third person, resulting from the consumption of such beverages.”

Therefore, you believed that if you had a company party or a simple get together and someone over-imbibed and then injured someone else you had no liability. While generally true, there is one important exception.

The recent case of Ennabe v. Manosa clarified the rule as to service of alcohol to minors.

The facts of Ennabe are very similar to story about Mary and Bobby and Jim. Jessica Manosa, who was 20, had a party and invited many people.

Everyone was charged about five dollars to enter to cover the costs of the drinks. Allegedly Thomas Garcia (also a minor – that is someone under 21) came to the party already drunk, paid the admission fee, got more alcohol, and proceeded to get thrown out. In leaving he ran over and killed Andrew Ennabe.

Manosa was sued by Andrew’s folks. She raised the immunity argument about being a social host.

The California Supreme Court went through the history of that immunity and pointed out the exception that anyone who sells alcohol to an obviously intoxicated minor has liability if that minor injures himself or someone else.

But there was no sale here, right? Well, no, that’s not correct according to the Court. “A qualifying sale includes “any transaction” in which title to an alcoholic beverage is passed for “any consideration.”

And how about the passing of title? “Nor is it difficult to discern when title to a drink passed to Garcia. Although his payment of the admission fee did not entitle him to, say, take possession of all the alcohol at the party, nor did he at that time necessarily take title to any particular drink, when Garcia did pour himself a drink and begin to consume it, title to that drink clearly passed to him.

We conclude the plain meaning of a “sale,” as defined in section 23025 and used in section 25602.1, includes Garcia’s payment of the entrance fee for Manosa’s party, irrespective of the fact possession of a particular drink did not occur immediately upon payment.”

So, while you can try to dance around the ruling in Ennabe, avoid serving alcohol in any situations where minors will be present. Maybe you won’t be cool but you’ll avoid liability and maybe keep someone alive.

Carl Kanowsky of Kanowsky & Associates is an attorney in the Santa Clarita Valley. He may be reached by email at Mr. Kanowsky’s column represents his own views, and not necessarily those of The Signal. Nothing contained herein shall be or is intended to be construed as providing legal advice.


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