Social hosting

Many teenagers and other underage minors choose to consume alcohol. Some parents mistakenly believe that providing a “safe place” for their teenager and his or her friends to drink is better than letting them drink elsewhere. When you allow your teen to drink under your roof you become a social host. Things can quickly get out of control when alcohol is being consumed; someone may get injured on the premises or drive away and injure themselves or someone else in a drunken car accident and you could be held liable.

Most underage drinkers get their alcohol from social sources such as parents, siblings, and friends at parties and other social gatherings. Some states and local communities including Washington have taken steps to hold liable those people who provide or serve alcohol to minors or allow drinking on their property.

Social Hosting Defined

While commercial entities like bars are ruled by a “duty of care” to the people consuming the establishment’s alcoholic beverages, social host liability laws instead place responsibility on the “social” host”, such as homeowners throwing a house party. Many states have particular laws for drinking that involves underage minors.

Underage Social Host Liability Laws: Washington State

RCW 66.44.270 : “It is unlawful for any person to sell, give, or otherwise supply liquor to any person under the age of twenty-one years or permit any person under that age to consume liquor on his or her premises or on any premises under his or her control.”

The penalties for breaking this law include a fine of up to $5,000 and one year in jail. Social hosts also owe a “duty of reasonable care” to a minor who consumes alcohol supplied by them on or off their premises. Essentially, a host may be held liable if the minor is injured or injures property or someone else in any way. Note that in Washington, a social host is not liable for permitting a minor to consume alcohol on the host’s premises, if the alcohol was not provided by the host.

Despite this protection in the law, it is still risky to allow teens to drink at your home as their behavior may become erratic and unpredictable including:

  • Risky sexual behavior,
  • sexual assaults,
  • alcohol poisoning, and/or
  • physical altercations.

Steps to Help Prevent Underage Drinking

  • Express your views to your teen that they should avoid underage drinking.
  • Do not allow underage drinking in your home.
  • Never supply alcohol to anyone under the age of 21.
  • Tell your adult children not to provide alcohol to their underage siblings.
  • Be at home when your teenager has a party and check in on it periodically to check for alcohol.
  • If you are leaving your teenager overnight, have a friend or relative check in on them or better yet, send them to stay somewhere that there will be supervision.
  • Talk to the parents of your teenager’s friends and make sure that they are not providing alcohol to your underage child.
  • Ensure that there is adult supervision where your teenager spends the night.
  • Provide fun alcohol-free activities for your teenager that can include their friends.

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