A common concern faced by parents of many high-school aged children is the potential for legal liability (both criminal and civil) for underage drinking in their homes. Whether it is your child or his or her friends, if they are underage, it is indeed illegal in Pennsylvania for a parent to knowingly give and allow them to drink alcohol. A common reaction from parents to this fact is that they believe, perhaps accurately, that it is safer to allow their child and his or her friends to drink at home under their control as opposed to an unsupervised session elsewhere. Regardless of whether or not this belief is accurate, you should know the legal consequences of rolling the dice in such a manner.
As explained by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, it is a crime to sell or give alcohol to anyone under 21, even if they are your own kids. Therefore, if you are caught giving or selling alcohol to anyone under the age of 21, you have committed a crime. Adults charged under this law face graduated punishments. The first violation carries, in addition to a minimum fine of $1,000, possibly 6 months in the county jail. After the first violation, subsequent violations carry a minimum fine of $2,500 and possibly 6 months in the county jail. This is a misdemeanor of the third degree.
From a civil liability standpoint, it is also important to take into consideration the potential for being sued as a result of your decision to bring the underage party home. Pennsylvania law permits recovery of damages from a host who knowingly serves alcohol to the point of intoxication to a person under 21 years of age where someone is subsequently injured as a result of the intoxicated person’s negligence.
As explained above, there is potential for both civil and criminal punishments for parents who knowingly serve alcohol to a minor. However, the determination of liability in both contexts is generally one which is fact-specific and can vary based on the circumstances of your case. If you are a parent involved in a legal matter stemming from underage drinking in your home, it is important you are prepared. The legal team at Howland, Hess, Guinan, Torpey, Cassidy and O’Connell LLP are available to explain and defend your rights today.
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