The California Supreme Court has ruled that a party host who requires a cover charge to offset some of the costs of a party may be held liable if an underage drinker becomes intoxicated, drives, and injures or kills another person.
The Supreme Court case stems from a party in Diamond Bar, California, held by 20-year-old Jessica Manosa. Manosa charged uninvited guests between $3 and $5 to enter the party, which was held at an unoccupied rental home owned by her parents, and drink alcohol. Thomas Garcia, 20, who was already intoxicated, paid the cover charge and entered the party. As Garcia left the party, he struck 19-year-old Andrew Ennabe with his vehicle. Ennabe died a week later.
Ennabe’s parents sued Jessica Manosa.
Current law imposes liability on bars and retailers who sell alcohol to obviously intoxicated minors. A recent California law extended civil liability to adults who sell alcohol to a minor who causes an accident as a result of the minor’s drunk driving.
Manosa’s attorneys argued that the cover charge was only meant to offset the costs of alcohol and did not constitute sales of alcohol. They argued that any ruling to the contrary would make many hosts vulnerable to liability if they asked for something in return for attending a gathering such as a potluck.
The Court disagreed.
“The assertion is exaggerated,” Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar wrote. “One does not normally charge guests an entrance fee to attend bar mitzvahs, weddings or gallery openings.” According to the court, a seller of alcohol may include “a private person who was not engaged in a commercial enterprise.”
In effect, the ruling applied the prior standard to minors who charge admission for parties where alcohol is provided as if they were a bar or restaurant.
According to Justice Werdegar, the Court “should err on the side of permitting liability, for the possibility of liability may provide a strong deterrent against the provision of alcohol to minors, especially those who are already obviously intoxicated.”