COURT: Underage Hosts Who Charge Admission to Parties Can Be Liable for Actions of Intoxicated Minors

February 25, 2014 9:00 am · 16 comments

In a decision expected to affect college and high-school parties, the California Supreme Court ruled on Monday that an underage host who charges admission to an alcohol-fueled party can be held liable if an intoxicated under-21 guest kills or injures another person.

A 1978 state law generally provides social hosts and bars with legal immunity from being sued for civil damages for having provided alcohol to a person who harms others as a result of being drunk.

But the law contains a few exceptions, including one that allows civil lawsuits against people who sell alcohol to obviously intoxicated minors.

In the decision issued at its headquarters in San Francisco, the court unanimously ruled that a host’s collection of a cover charge at a party where liquor is served qualified as a sale of alcoholic beverages.

The admission fee makes the host “potentially liable under the terms of that statute as a person who sold alcohol to an obviously intoxicated minor,” Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote.

The panel reinstated a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court against a 20-year-old party host by the parents of a college student who was killed by a 20-year-old drunken driver who had been a paying guest.

The host, Jessica Manosa, gave the party in a vacant rental house owned by her parents in Diamond Bar on April 27, 2007. Her parents did not know about it. After word of the event spread by telephone and text messages, between 40 and 60 young people showed up, some of whom had not been invited.

Manosa, who provided rum, tequila and beer and asked friends to buy more alcohol, asked a friend to stand by a gate outside the house and collect admission fees of $3 to $5 from the uninvited guests.

One of the uninvited participants, Thomas Garcia, 20, allegedly arrived intoxicated, paid a cover charge, and drank more alcohol at the party, according to the wrongful death lawsuit by the parents of 19-year-old Andrew Ennabe, a California State University, Fullerton, student who had been an invited guest.

After Garcia became rowdy, he was escorted out of the party by Ennabe and a group of friends. As Garcia drove away, he ran over Ennabe, who died of his injuries six days later.

In a separate criminal case, Garcia pleaded guilty to voluntary vehicular manslaughter and was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Ennabe’s parents, Faiez and Christina Ennabe, appealed to the state high court after a trial judge and an appeals court dismissed their civil lawsuit against Manosa on the ground that the cover charge did not amount to a sale of alcohol and that Manosa was therefore protected by the 1978 law.

Werdegar wrote in the ruling that Manosa allegedly “operated what was in essence a pop-up nightclub that required a cover charge for entry” and that the action “falls with (the law’s) definition of a sale of alcohol.”

The parents’ lawsuit now goes back to Superior Court for a trial to determine whether the alleged sale to an obviously intoxicated minor occurred and whether that caused Ennabe’s death.

In the meantime, the ruling sets a precedent for other cases in which young people are charged a cover fee for a party, according to Sharon Arkin, a lawyer who filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Consumer Attorneys of California.

“I’ve been told that a lot of college dorm parties and high school parties charge entry fees,” she said.

“Under this decision, if hosts charge a fee and serve the alcohol (to a minor) and someone gets hurt, they’re responsible,” Arkin said.

“The decision supports the public policy purpose of liability to hold people responsible for the choices they make. Once you make that choice and start serving alcohol, you are going to have legal liability and be responsible for that choice,” she said.

In enacting the 1978 law granting civil immunity to social hosts and bars in most circumstances, the Legislature said its purpose was to reflect the concept that the consumption, and not the serving, of alcohol was the cause of any resulting injury.

The exception that provides civil liability for people who sell alcohol to an obviously intoxicated minor originally applied only to licensed liquor sellers, such as bars. In 1986, the Legislature expanded the exception to apply to anyone who sells alcohol.

In yet another exception added in 2010, the Legislature established civil liability for “a parent, guardian or another adult who knowingly furnishes alcoholic beverages at his or her residence to a person under 21 years of age,” when injury or death results, regardless of whether the young person was visibly drunk when given alcohol.

Monday’s decision has the effect of expanding that liability in two directions — to underage hosts who charge admission fees and serve intoxicated minors at their residences, and to both adult and under-21 social hosts who collect fees and serve intoxicated young people at parties at facilities outside their homes.

It's beyond Me February 25, 2014 at 9:52 AM

That responsibility for this is just now being settled!
With all of the other “Laws” passed over the decades.
I think they should be liable even if they don’t charge
at the door, geez looeez!

Linda February 25, 2014 at 10:28 AM

Hold everyone responsible, minor and parents alike.

Get it right, or you don;t get it. February 25, 2014 at 10:40 AM

Wow. Drugs are illegal. So is alcohol for people under 21. YET, you can have an alcohol party with no admission and someone dies and no issues? Yet drugs, I bet if you threw a drug party and someone died you would be in big trouble? Does anyone else find something completely double standardly hypocritical here in the US?

About time February 25, 2014 at 12:32 PM

I agree with the Supreme Court’s decision on this one….my only question is what the f- too them so long??? I wish they did this years ago..think about all those college students who have died from alcohol related incidents whether it be driving related, or getting so intoxicated that they end up dying from alcohol poisoning. I have seen too many incidents where these so called “fee” oriented college parties end up getting out of control, and 99% of the time someone end’s up getting hurt.

I hope this also does something in the way of reducing the number of rape incidents that occur at college parties (since 90% of college parties result in rape/sexual assault incidents – also including those assaults which are never reported). Perhaps if people know they are responsible for the degenerate and criminal behavior going on at their hosted parties they will take notice.

Then again, maybe not.

And what that punk-a$! Garcia got in terms of his prison sentence was a f-ing joke.

Anon February 25, 2014 at 1:47 PM

Dead girl went to an illegal party where alcohol was served. She put herself in harms way. What was her blood alcohol ? Next time— stay home

Monica February 25, 2014 at 2:24 PM

How can a dead girl go to a party? Did she take BART?

Well February 25, 2014 at 3:24 PM

@ Monica, Haven’t you seen Weekend and Bernie’s?

RANDOM TASK February 25, 2014 at 3:57 PM

wow yeah really hypocritical … this whole state is one big idiot pool who think that this state should be run like any other. this state is unique and trying to appease the indentured voters to keep with the status quo is the reason this state has the worst schools the worst crime the worst outlook over the next 20 years than any other this side of texas….well Colorado is actually doing something be it wrong to some but they will have a cash flow to update infrastructure and outlook kudos for stepping into this century and looking ahead

Nancy February 25, 2014 at 4:03 PM

@ Well—6

Weekend at Bernie’s…..CLASSIC!

Anon2you February 25, 2014 at 4:20 PM

No one wants to take responsibility for their own actions…I am sorry for the parents of Andrew Ennabe at the loss of their son, but if I understand this correctly he (Andrew) was a 19 year old attending the party too! An illegal action by Andrew. His own actions put him in a place that ultimately ended in his death. The fact is no one forced Andrew to attend that party, and illegally drink. I find his parents need to sue out of line here. If they had done their job, their son would not have been at an illegal party in the first place. Their guilt is causing them to try and pass the blame on to others. I agree that Garcia should be prosecuted for Ennabe’s death and he needs to be held accountable fully

Underage hosts having a February 25, 2014 at 4:26 PM

party where there is alcohol is a crime of their parents poor standards and parenting skills.

The parents should be held criminally responsible as well.

Just me February 25, 2014 at 8:56 PM

Very simple. Take donations at the door. Now you’re not charging admission.

anon February 25, 2014 at 9:11 PM

Nobody checks ID’s . Nothing will change.

Idiocracy February 26, 2014 at 11:05 AM

You think this is gonna stop kids from drinking? Kids will always party its what they’re programed to do. I still think they should lower the drinking age. Can anyone give me a valid reason why the drinking age shouldn’t be 18?

Jeff February 26, 2014 at 3:59 PM

What happened to the driver? The kid chose to go the party. Cased closed. You can’t hold the person who held the party responsible. I really feel for the family, but I wish I knew of parties where they only charged 3-5 bucks to drink all night.

Vicky February 26, 2014 at 4:40 PM

Who pays to go to a party? You can find a party for free.

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