Pop Quiz (Mom, Too)

Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Parents: think you know the liability laws? Take this quick quiz and find out. (NOTE: The following scenario is based on an October 2010 case tried in Erie County, New York.)

The Incident

Your kids, 16 and 19, decide to throw an alcohol-free party in your home. All goes well until about 1:30 a.m., when you discover their friends have smuggled in some liquor, and everyone has been drinking. After speaking with them, you see no sign of intoxication, so you send the invitees home in their own cars.

The Charge

Your son, however, offers a buddy a ride home, and along the way he smashes into a tree, injuring the passenger. The other boy's parents sue for negligence, holding you liable for their son's safety during the trip.

Two Rulings

After the costs of a trial and an appeal, the appeals court rules in your favor, stating that you "reasonably believed that alcohol would not be served at the party ... and, upon discovering that alcohol had been served, observed ... that none of [the guests] was intoxicated.... [Accordingly,] ... we conclude that defendant parents satisfied their duty to provide adequate supervision for the guests at the party while the guests were under their control...."

Most pivotally, the judgment is that parental liability "does not extend to an area not within the control of defendant parents...," because the smash-up occurred "on a public road, 5 to 10 minutes from defendant parents' home."

But your fight is not over. Not long after this, the New York Supreme Court reinstates the lawsuit, opining that liability for such an incident derives not from geographic circumstances but from the parents' duty to protect the safety of minors.

Quiz Question: WWYD?

What would you decide? (A final real-life decision is pending.) Does parental liability end at your doorstep, or does it extend to actions caused by impairment while they were under your roof? If you're as unsure as the courts are, and should you find yourself involved in an incident like this, ask the experts: consult a lawyer in your area with experience in defending social host liability lawsuits.