Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Court Addresses Social Host Liability Issues For Homeowners Where Minor Allegedly Drank Alcohol in the Home and Was then Injured

Homeowner, Frank The Tank, Incurs Social Host Liability

In the case of Szydlowski v. Pusz, No. 5649-CV-2020 (C.P. Monroe Co. July 12, 2023), the court granted in part and denied in part a Motion for Summary Judgment in a case involving allegations of social host liability against homeowners for allegedly furnishing alcohol to a minor in their home.

According to the Opinion, the Plaintiff was 19 years of age when he allegedly drank two (2) alcoholic beverages while attending a party at the Defendants’ home.  In this context, under Pennsylvania law, anyone under the drinking age of 21 is considered to be a "minor."

In terms of the subject accident, another adult at the party allegedly lost control of a ATV and crashed into the Plaintiff, causing him injuries.

The Plaintiff sued and included the homeowners as Defendants on a claim of negligence, alleging that he was unable to evade the ATV because of the effects of the alcohol he had consumed at the Defendants’ home.

In this matter, the Defendant homeowners maintained that they did not agree to, or plan, an underage drinking party. However, the Plaintiff noted that a State Trooper who had investigated the accident had testified that every person attending the party was drinking.

The court held that parents who hold a party that includes minor guests and knowingly allow them to consume any amount of alcohol are subject to potential social host liability.

The court additionally noted that the separate issue of whether a minor became intoxicated as a result of drinking alcohol in the home goes to the question of causation, not liability.

Judge Zulick stated that a minor Plaintiff need not prove that the Defendant homeowners specifically served him alcohol in order to impose social host liability against those Defendants. However, there must be evidence that the homeowners did more than simply have alcohol present in their home.

The court otherwise indicated that homeowner Defendants who knowingly allow their premises to be generally used for the purpose of serving alcohol to minors is sufficient evidence for the imposition of liability, even though the alcohol may have been provided by someone other than the homeowner.

With the Defendants' Motion before the Court, the central question was whether the homeowner Defendants knowingly served alcohol to the minor Plaintiff. The court found that there were material questions of fact in this regard and that, as such, the homeowner Defendants were not entitled to summary judgment. As such, this part of the Defendants’ Motion was denied.

However, the court did grant the Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment relative to the Plaintiff’s punitive damages claims.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

Source: “Digest of Recent Opinions.” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (Aug. 1, 2023).

Source of video:  Old Schoool by the Montecito Picture Company (2003)

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