If I host a graduation party for my teen, what am I liable for?

As parents, and speaking from experience, one of our proudest moments is seeing our children reach their goals and celebrate those achievements with family and friends.

As we approach the end of another school year, many parents are getting ready to celebrate their child’s high school graduation and are likely to be faced with the “social host dilemma” of whether to serve alcoholic beverages at the graduation party and whether to allow the young men and women who attend the party to consume alcohol. This decision carries critical safety and legal implications of allowing and enabling underage drinking at your celebration.

Social host liability laws” hold adults — the parents or owners of the property — responsible for any harm or damage caused by intoxicated minors on their premises. The purpose of these laws is to heighten social responsibilities towards alcohol related accidents, injuries, and death.

New York State courts enforce both civil and criminal penalties on adults who provide alcohol to minors at their home. Adults who violate the General Obligations Law, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law, or the Penal Law can be subject to significant monetary fines and time in jail.

What are the penalties set forth by General Obligations Law, Alcoholic Beverage Control Law and the Penal Law regarding our child’s graduation celebration? 

 The General Obligations Law essentially says that if an adult is aware that a minor is consuming alcohol at the home or if the adult provided the alcohol, then the adult can be held accountable for any damages that occur as a result of that minor being intoxicated. This extends to everything the minor does when they leave the home, and this applies to both parents.

On top of the civil penalties, if an adult buys alcohol for a minor, the adult can also be held criminally liable under the Alcoholic Beverage Control Laws of New York [NYABC §65(1)]. This type of criminal liability can mean significant fines or time spent in jail.

Additionally, under the New York Penal Law – Article 260.20(2) prosecutors at the state level have pursued charges such as Endangering the Welfare of a Child against those who have provided alcohol to minors. Such an offense in New York is punishable by up to 1 year in jail as well as up to a $1,000.00 fine.

Your child’s graduation from high school is indeed a milestone event in their life. It is not every day that a parent gets the opportunity to be the “cool parent” instead of the “boring parent,” but in this circumstance, there is so much risk and danger involved that it is simply not worth it.