What should I do if I am facing a lawsuit or other legal matter related to a minor's possession or consumption of alcohol or another substance?

If you are facing legal matters for your teen's underage drinking or for another situation involving minors who consumed or possessed alcohol in a scenario for which you may or may not be liable, you should consult an attorney in your state and/or in the state where the incident occurred immediately and discuss your potential liability with them. This article only provides general opinions that should not be construed as legal advice, and this article is not written to give information about the specific laws of any state.

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What types of situations might I be liable for?

Importantly, the laws vary by state, and this is not a comprehensive list. For legal advice or help with your situation, consult a lawyer who can help you determine if you face "social host" liability for your role in a minor's alcohol possession, alcohol consumption, or alcohol-related criminal activity.

  • You purchase alcohol (or another substance) for a minor.
  • You provide minors with alcohol (or another substance) at a party.
  • You allow minors to bring alcohol (or another substance) to a party you are hosting.
  • You do not regularly monitor all party guests, and, even without your permission, a teen or teens drink and become injured as a result.
  • You provide an already drunk minor with additional alcohol and allow them to drive later in the evening.
  • A minor who attended your party and drank – with or without your permission or knowledge – drove a car from your property and received a DUI; or injured or killed one or more people with their vehicle.

Is there anything I can do to decrease my chances of liability?

  • Don't purchase alcohol (or other substances) for minors.
  • Don't provide or make accessible alcohol (or other substances) to minors at parties.
  • Don't allow anyone to bring alcohol (or other substances) with them to a party that you are hosting, whether or not the party is actually on your property.
  • Consider collecting all teen's car keys upon arrival and having a mandatory sobriety "check out" before a teen can return home; or make the party a sleepover.
  • If you can afford it, rent a hall or facility for the party and let the business owners – who know serving alcohol to minors can cause them to lose their license – be the bad guys.
  • Frequently monitor all of the underage guests for signs of suspicious behavior. Enlist the help of other adults if you have a large guest list.
  • Consider increasing your liability insurance, especially umbrella insurance, which may cover you for any type of situation for which you are found liable by a court of law.
  • Remember that both those that you perceive as "good" teens and "bad" teens are both in the category of "people for whom I could be found liable" as well as "people who might show up at the party." Also, don't forget that even "good" teens are sometimes tempted to experiment or make poor decisions.

What can I do if my teen or another teen that I know seems to have a problem with alcohol or another potentially addictive substance?

Substance abuse among adolescents occurs in a variety of forms (Read Parents and Pills: Unintentional Drug Dealers and Ecstasy and Rave Culture). If someone you know is abusing or addicted to a substance like alcohol, marijuana, prescription medicines, heroin, or cocaine, calling for help today can help them begin the path to recovery. An intervention specialists can help you arrange, prepare for and implement an intervention (Read Intervention FAQ). We can also help you select a rehab facility to meet the needs of your teen (Read Teen Addiction and Rehab and Questions for a Rehab Facility).