SOCIAL HOST LIABILITY, PART ONE
This is part One of a two part blogpost, in which Boston Personal Injury Lawyer, Keith L. Miller, analyzes liability issues in the recent drowning death in Andover, Massachusetts.
In the early morning of February 16, 2009, sixteen year old Concord Academy student, Elizabeth Mun, was found by friends face-down in a shallow stream in an upscale residential neighborhood in Andover, Massachusetts. She was pronounced dead as the result of drowning later that day at Children’s Hospital in Boston.
It is believed that she had attended an overnight party at the home of a fellow Concord Academy student, whose parents apparently were not present. She had apparently left the house on her own around 5:00 a.m. and her friends became concerned when she had not returned by 6:30. The Essex District Attorney is investigating the incident, although it is presumed that alcohol may have been a factor.
Many are already drawing parallels to the death of Taylor Meyer, a King Philip Regional High School student who drowned last fall in Norfolk, Massachusetts after wandering from an underage drinking party.
If it turns out that alcohol or drugs were involved in this recent incident, the question immediately arises as to the responsibility, and by inference the premises liability, of the parents who owned the Andover home, and who appear to have left their teenage child without supervision at the home, and by implication, permitted the party to take place.
It is well known that criminal responsibility can attach when there is evidence that parents or other adults have procured alcohol for minors. In fact, last fall a 44 year old Gloucester woman was sentenced to a year in jail after pleading guilty to multiple counts of reckless endangerment and illegally supplying alcohol to minors after buying alcohol for her 13 year old daughter and her friends so that they could “party” in her home.
What then is the legal implication if minors become intoxicated in a private home and then cause injury or death to themselves or third parties? While it is clear that a cause of action may arise when parents are directly involved in the procurement of the alcohol consumed, or consciously permit minors (or adults) to become intoxicated from alcohol in their presence in the home, less clear is whether liability can be established where, as in this tragic Andover death, the parents were not present, but appear to have consciously left their minor child at home in their absence.
Massachusetts has long recognized social host liability as a common law cause of action. The history of the law here, the most recent decisions and its present status will be discussed further in Part Two of this Blog, to appear in the coming days.
For Additional Information see Social Host Liability – Part Two