December 31, 2008

Adults can be liable for underage drinkers

More than 1 in 4 young U.S. adults say they have attended at least one party in the last year where minors were served alcohol, a survey indicates.

The survey, by the legal Web site FindLaw says 28 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 24 encountered underage party drinking in the last year. However, several different laws can apply when this occurs:

-- All states and the District of Columbia have laws that prohibit the serving of alcohol to minors. However, many states have exceptions that allow parents to provide alcohol to their minor children or wards. Some states also have exceptions for religious services, medical treatment and educational purposes.

-- Under social host liability laws, adults who serve or provide alcohol to a person under the age of 21 can be held criminally liable if that minor is killed or injured, or kills or injures another person.

-- Many states and municipalities have teen party ordinances that make it illegal to host a party where underage youth are drinking.

People who host parties and social gatherings -- whether during the holidays or any time of year -- need to be aware of their responsibilities, Stephanie Rahlfs, an attorney and editor at, said in a statement.

The survey was conducted using a demographically balanced telephone survey of 1,000 U.S. adults. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.