In 2009, Attorney Robert H. Humphrey's article on Social Host Liability was published in the Rhode Island Bar Journal. According to the article, "tragedies and near tragedies involving alcohol, occurring throughout Rhode Island, led to the adoption of the State's Social Host Laws. The term "social host liability" refers to both criminal liability, which is an statutory prohibition enforced by the State that may lead to criminal penalties such as fines and imprisonment, and civil liability, referring to an action, by a private party against a host, seeking monetary damages for injuries and damages."
In the context of criminal liability, those who furnish or procure and/or are aware of the consumption of alcohol by underage persons in their residence or on their property are being held criminally liable. In addition, individuals under the age of twenty-one (21) who either transport alcoholic beverages or have possession of alcoholic beverages or misrepresent their age to obtain alcohol beverages are subject to stiff penalties including, but not limited to, fines of up to $1,000.00, community service and suspension of their drivers' licenses.
In the context of civil liability, the Rhode Island Supreme Court has held that if a homeowner provided alcoholic beverages to underage persons or had actual knowledge of the presence and consumption of alcohol by underage persons on the property, then the homeowner was duty-bound to exercise reasonable care to protect the injured guest. In its decision in Willis v. Omar, the RI Supreme Court affirmed its holding in the Martin case, and stated that the Court will only recognize Social Host Liability in the limited circumstances where a special relationship exists because a host unlawfully furnished alcohol to an underage person. "This Court recently set forth the elements for finding a special relationship in Martin in which the plaintiff was a guest at a high school graduation party at which alcoholic beverages, including keg-beer, were readily available to numerous underage partygoers. An altercation arose, fueled by alcohol, during which the plaintiff was struck in the head by a party-crasher welding a baseball bat. We held that a party host who makes alcohol available to underage guests owes a duty of reasonable care to protect the guests from harm, including a criminal assault. Such a duty exists as a matter of law between the host and the underage guests because allowing underage drinking gives rise to a special duty, based on both public policy and foreseeability grounds. To avoid assuming a duty of protection, the adult property owner must simply comply with existing law and refuse to provide alcohol or condone underage drinking on his or her property."
According to a recent article in Rhode Island Lawyers Weekly, Judge Savage's decision in Leonard, Jr. v. Therrien, may be expanding social host liability in Rhode Island. In Leonard, Judge Savage "denied summary judgment to the parents of an 18-year-old who had hosted a party. The parents were away and had been told by their son that he would have a small number of friends over to watch a football game. That escalated into a party in which at least 15 guests arrived with their own alcohol. A fight between the son and one of the guests ensued, resulting in head injuries to the guest. The guest sued the parents, claiming they were negligent in maintaining the premises by failing to supervise the party." This denial of the motion for summary judgment may indicate that the theory of liability may be creeping towards including homeowners who are not even present when underage persons consume alcohol on their property.
In a related case, the trial of a former Chariho School Committee Member and mother arrested for an alleged violation of Rhode Island Social Host Laws is scheduled for June 14, 2012 before the 4th Division District Court. The mother was arrested after teens alleged consumed alcohol on her property and were later involved in a serious car accident.
The law regarding criminal and civil liability under Rhode Island Social Host Laws is ever evolving. If you or a family member has been charged with a violation of Rhode Island's Social Host Laws, please allow Attorney Robert H. Humphrey's, reputation, experience and skill to successfully guide you through the legal process. Please contact Attorney Robert H. Humphrey, Esq., at 401-816-5862 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information regarding the civil and criminal liability of adults who furnish or procure alcohol for underage persons or information regarding the penalties imposed against underage persons who possess or transport alcohol, please see my Social Host Liability article, which was recently published in the Rhode Island Bar Journal.