Southern hospitality is a long standing tradition in Alabama and our residents take pride in offering guests food and drink — especially during college football season. However, if you are serving alcoholic beverages more intoxicating than a glass of sweet tea to your guests, there are certain laws in Alabama that you need to understand and follow closely. Most problems in this area are associated with a homeowner serving alcohol to minors. In Alabama, the age of majority is 19 years of age, but a person must be 21 years old to legally purchase or consume alcoholic beverages. Persons under 21 years of age cannot legally possess or consume alcohol under any circumstances, even in a private home or with parental permission. Alabama Code § 28-1-5.
Under the Alabama Civil Damages Act, social hosts can be liable if they provide alcohol to a a person under 21 years old and that person is injured or injures another person while intoxicated. The parents or children of an intoxicated person under 21 years old that is injured can make a claim against the homeowners that provided the alcohol. Other parties that are injured may pursue claims against the homeowners as well as the intoxicated person. For example, if the host of a party provides alcohol to a person under 21 years old who then becomes intoxicated and causes a car crash as a result, the host could be sued by both the parents or children of the intoxicated person and by anyone else the intoxicated person injured in the crash.
Homeowners may also be guilty of a crime if they allow persons under 21 years old to drink alcohol or use controlled substances on their property. It is a misdemeanor for an adult homeowner to allow an “Open House Party” at their residence. The Alabama Open House Party Law, makes it unlawful for an adult who is aware of the party and in attendance to allow a party to continue if:
- Alcoholic beverages or controlled substances are illegally possessed or consumed by person under 21 years old on their property,
- The adult knows that persons under 21 years old are consuming alcoholic beverages or controlled substances.
- The adult fails to take reasonable action to prevent the illegal possession or consumption of alcohol on their property.
Adults who violate the Open House Party law will be charged with a Class B misdemeanor. This allows for a punishment of up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.
In general, social hosts who provide alcohol to adults in Alabama are not liable for the wrongdoing of their intoxicated guests. This is the rule even if the host serves adult guests that are visibly intoxicated. Businesses that serve alcohol, on the other hand, such as bars or restaurants can be held liable for serving alcohol to visibly intoxicated patrons under Alabama’s Dram Shop Act. However, a homeowner or social host could still be held liable if they “negligently entrust” a potentially “dangerous instrument”, such as a motor vehicle or a firearm, to an intoxicated guest. In other words, the host of a party could probably not be sued for allowing adults to become intoxicated in their home, but could be if they loaned their intoxicated guest a vehicle or allowed an intoxicated guest to shoot a gun in their back yard and someone was injured.
Our firm has had extensive experience with cases where someone has been injured by a defendant who was illegally provided or allowed to consume alcohol. If you or a loved one has been injured by a minor who was provided alcohol at a party, we can help.