What is a Parent's Liability for Allowing Underage Drinking in the Home in California?
California has no state criminal law on social host liability. However, parents of an underage drinker could face misdemeanor charges for allowing their child to use alcohol at home. A parent or legal guardian who knowingly permits his or her child, or a person in the company of the child, or both, who are under the age of 18 years, to consume an alcoholic beverage or use a controlled substance at the home of the parent or legal guardian is guilty of a misdemeanor if the following conditions under California Business & Professional Code, § 25658.2 are met:
(1) As the result of the consumption of an alcoholic beverage or use of a controlled substance at the home of the parent or legal guardian, the child or other underage person has a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.05 percent or greater, as measured by a chemical test, or is under the influence of a controlled substance.
(2) The parent knowingly permits that child or other underage person, after leaving the parent's or legal guardian's home, to drive a vehicle.
(3) That child or underage person is found to have caused a traffic collision while driving the vehicle.
In California, there is no state civil statute allowing individuals to bring a private lawsuit. In addition, a California statute provides that social hosts who furnish alcoholic beverages to any person are immune from lawsuits for damages or injury suffered by that person or any third party, resulting from consumption of those beverages. (California Civil Code, § 1714, subd. (c); California Business & Professional Code, §§ 25602, subd. (b), 25602.1.)
In California, there are several cities with social host liability ordinances. Different cities handle penalties under social host laws various ways:
Infraction. Some municipalities treat social host liability as a criminal matter, but the penalty is, at most, an infraction that carries with it a monetary fine rather than jail time.
Misdemeanor. Some municipalities treat social host liability as a misdemeanor, in the same way some states do, carrying possible jail time as a penalty.
Response Costs Recovery Ordinances. Some municipalities have enacted response costs recovery ordinances. Under these ordinances, offenders face no criminal penalties—no criminal monetary fines or jail time--at all. Instead, these laws declare an underage drinking party on private property a public nuisance, which threatens the public health, safety and general welfare. These ordinances hold persons who own lease or otherwise control the property on which an out of control party occurs (e.g., parents, landowners, tenants, and the party hosts) civilly responsible for the costs of police, fire, or other emergency response services associated with responding multiple times to the location of an underage drinking party.
Here are some good links where you can get further information:
Please see the following CA statutes:
1714. (a) Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his
or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by
his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or
her property or person, except so far as the latter has, willfully
or by want of ordinary care, brought the injury upon himself or
herself. The design, distribution, or marketing of firearms and
ammunition is not exempt from the duty to use ordinary care and skill
that is required by this section. The extent of liability in these
cases is defined by the Title on Compensatory Relief.
(b) It is the intent of the Legislature to abrogate the holdings
in cases such as Vesely v. Sager (1971) 5 Cal.3d 153, Bernhard v.
Harrah's Club (1976) 16 Cal.3d 313, and Coulter v. Superior Court
(1978) 21 Cal.3d 144 and to reinstate the prior judicial
interpretation of this section as it relates to proximate cause for
injuries incurred as a result of furnishing alcoholic beverages to an
intoxicated person, namely that the furnishing of alcoholic
beverages is not the proximate cause of injuries resulting from
intoxication, but rather the consumption of alcoholic beverages is
the proximate cause of injuries inflicted upon another by an
(c) No social host who furnishes alcoholic beverages to any person
may be held legally accountable for damages suffered by that person,
or for injury to the person or property of, or death of, any third
person, resulting from the consumption of those beverages
25658. (a) Except as otherwise provided in subdivision (c), every
person who sells, furnishes, gives, or causes to be sold, furnished,
or given away, any alcoholic beverage to any person under the age of
21 years is guilty of a misdemeanor.
(b) Any person under the age of 21 years who purchases any
alcoholic beverage, or any person under the age of 21 years who
consumes any alcoholic beverage in any on-sale premises, is guilty of
(c) Any person who violates subdivision (a) by purchasing any
alcoholic beverage for, or furnishing, giving, or giving away any
alcoholic beverage to, a person under the age of 21 years, and the
person under the age of 21 years thereafter consumes the alcohol and
thereby proximately causes great bodily injury or death to himself,
herself, or any other person, is guilty of a misdemeanor.
(d) Any on-sale licensee who knowingly permits a person under the
age of 21 years to consume any alcoholic beverage in the on-sale
premises, whether or not the licensee has knowledge that the person
is under the age of 21 years, is guilty of a misdemeanor.
(e) (1) Except as otherwise provided in paragraph (2) or (3), any
person who violates this section shall be punished by a fine of two
hundred fifty dollars ($250), no part of which shall be suspended, or
the person shall be required to perform not less than 24 hours or
more than 32 hours of community service during hours when the person
is not employed and is not attending school, or a combination of a
fine and community service as determined by the court. A second or
subsequent violation of subdivision (b) shall be punished by a fine
of not more than five hundred dollars ($500), or the person shall be
required to perform not less than 36 hours or more than 48 hours of
community service during hours when the person is not employed and is
not attending school, or a combination of a fine and community
service as determined by the court. It is the intent of the
Legislature that the community service requirements prescribed in
this section require service at an alcohol or drug treatment program
or facility or at a county coroner's office, if available, in the
area where the violation occurred or where the person resides.
(2) Except as provided in paragraph (3), any person who violates
subdivision (a) by furnishing an alcoholic beverage, or causing an
alcoholic beverage to be furnished, to a minor shall be punished by a
fine of one thousand dollars ($1,000), no part of which shall be
suspended, and the person shall be required to perform not less than
24 hours of community service during hours when the person is not
employed and is not attending school.
(3) Any person who violates subdivision (c) shall be punished by
imprisonment in a county jail for a minimum term of six months not to
exceed one year, by a fine of one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by
both imprisonment and fine.
(f) Persons under the age of 21 years may be used by peace
officers in the enforcement of this section to apprehend licensees,
or employees or agents of licensees, or other persons who sell or
furnish alcoholic beverages to minors. Notwithstanding subdivision
(b), any person under the age of 21 years who purchases or attempts
to purchase any alcoholic beverage while under the direction of a
peace officer is immune from prosecution for that purchase or attempt
to purchase an alcoholic beverage. Guidelines with respect to the
use of persons under the age of 21 years as decoys shall be adopted
and published by the department in accordance with the rulemaking
portion of the Administrative Procedure Act (Chapter 3.5 (commencing
with Section 11340) of Part 1 of Division 3 of Title 2 of the
Government Code). Law enforcement-initiated minor decoy programs in
operation prior to the effective date of regulatory guidelines
adopted by the department shall be authorized as long as the minor
decoy displays to the seller of alcoholic beverages the appearance of
a person under the age of 21 years. This subdivision shall not be
construed to prevent the department from taking disciplinary action
against a licensee who sells alcoholic beverages to a minor decoy
prior to the department's final adoption of regulatory guidelines.
After the completion of every minor decoy program performed under
this subdivision, the law enforcement agency using the decoy shall
notify licensees within 72 hours of the results of the program. When
the use of a minor decoy results in the issuance of a citation, the
notification required shall be given to licensees and the department
within 72 hours of the issuance of the citation. A law enforcement
agency may comply with this requirement by leaving a written notice
at the licensed premises addressed to the licensee, or by mailing a
notice addressed to the licensee.
(g) The penalties imposed by this section do not preclude
prosecution or the imposition of penalties under any other provision
of law, including, but not limited to, Section 272 of the Penal Code
and Section 13202.5 of the Vehicle Code.