On Monday, May 1st, a 17-year-old boy crashed into the side of a man’s car in Katy, Texas. The man died and two others suffered injuries. This accident is just one example of a growing underage drinking crisis in Texas. Statistics show that the average age of teens underage drinking is 11 years old.
But purchasing and consuming alcohol by a minor is against the law in Texas. So, this raises the question: Who is liable when a teenager consumes alcohol and then gets behind the wheel and causes a collision? The answer depends upon whether the minor purchased the alcohol or was provided it by someone else. If someone provided it to him, it may also depend upon what city he was in when he was provided the alcohol and who the provider was.
Criminal and Civil Penalties for the Minor
There are a number of crimes involved when a minor drinks and drives that apply to the minor. It is a crime for a minor to purchase or attempt to purchase alcohol, unless he/she is accompanied by his parent. Lastly, it is a crime for a minor to get behind the wheel after consuming alcohol. Thus, the minor faces a number of criminal penalties. In addition, the minor is civilly liable for causing the accident just as any adult would be if he caused an accident. But the real question people have is really who else can be held liable?
Dram Shop Liability
Businesses may be liable for selling to alcohol minors under a Texas law known as the Dram Shop Law. The Dram Shop Law is primarily aimed at imposing civil liability upon businesses that engage in the sale of alcohol and either 1) overserve adults who are already obviously intoxicated, or; 2) serve alcohol to minors. Under the Texas Dram Shop Law, a seller/server of alcohol can be sued and held civilly liable for any damages caused by a minor to whom they serve alcohol if the alcohol is a producing factor of those damages. So, if a minor is served alcohol at a bar or buys it at the local quicky mart, the business can be held liable when the minor causes a car accident that injures or kills someone. It may be a defense if the minor presented a realistic fake id and represented that he was of age.
Social Host Liability
Some states have social host liability laws. These are laws aimed at holding people in private homes liable if they overserve their guests and allow them to drive. In general, Texas does not have a true statewide social host liability law. If an adult overserves another adult social guest in a private home, there is no cause of action against the serving adult when the guest causes a drunk driving accident. The guest may, of course, be held liable for causing the drunk driving accident.
What are Social Host Liability Laws?
Social Host Liability Laws are laws aimed at holding people in private homes liable if they overserve their guests and allow them to drive.
However, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code (TABC) does impose social host liability on certain adults who intoxicate a minor under 18. Under TABC 2.02, an adult who is not a parent or legal guardian of the minor and knowingly provides the minor under the age of 18 with alcohol or allows them to drink on the adult’s premises is civilly liable for damages proximately caused by the minor’s intoxication. Additionally, The adult faces criminal penalties for providing alcohol to the minor. Those penalties include a Class A Misdemeanor charge carrying a fine of up to $4,000.00 and up to 1 year in jail. It is interesting to note that the criminal penalties apply to all minors under 21 whereas the civil only apply to a minor under 18.
Cities Expanding the Law
In addition to the above laws, six Texas cities have expanded social host liability law to include criminal penalties upon adults who merely allow minors to drink upon their premises. These laws are aimed at discouraging adults from allowing underage drinking parties on their property. They can be found in the cities of San Antonio, Alton, El Paso, Odessa, Palmview, and Weslaco. Below is an example of the San Antonio Ordinance:
Sec. 21-304. – Prohibition of gatherings involving underage drinking.
No person shall suffer, permit or host a gathering involving underage drinking at a location under his or her control, including but not limited to the person’s residence, other private property, place, premises, or public place.
(Ord. No. 2016-12-15-0999 , § 1, 12-15-16)
A violation of this ordinance carries a fine of $300.00 to $500.00 plus enforcement or response costs.
When an underage driver consumes alcohol and causes an accident, there are several parties that may be held liable for the accident. In addition to the driver himself, Texas Dram Shop Laws provide a means by which businesses that sell alcohol can be held liable for knowingly or negligently serving alcohol to a minor. Additionally, although Texas does not have a true statewide Social Host Liability Law, the TABC does provide for civil liability for a social host that serves alcohol to a minor under the age of 18. Additionally, some cities have expanded this liability to include civil fines on persons hosting or permitting any minors to gather and consume alcohol on their premises.