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Parents and Parties (Part 2): Furnishing Alcohol

As was discussed in Part 1, parents could potentially be criminally liable for providing alcohol to their underage children or friends.  See I.C. 7.1-5-7-8.  However, what are their responsibilities under civil law?   A person that “furnishes” alcohol to another could be in violation of Indiana’s Dram Shop Act.  The Act imposes civil liability for “furnishing” alcohol to visibly intoxicated individuals who cause injury.  See Outback Steakhouse of Florida, Inc. v. Markley, 856 N.E.2d 65, 74 (Ind. 2006).

What does furnish mean exactly?  This issue was recently addressed in Rogers v. Martin, 63 N.E.3d 316, 327 (Ind. 2016)In that case, two individuals hosted a party inviting friends and co-workers, which totaled about fifty people.  Martin owned the home, and her then-boyfriend (now-husband) Brothers had lived there on and off for some time.  Id. at 317-18.  In preparation for the event, Brothers ordered a keg of beer, picked it up, and set it up in the garage. For the most part, party guests served themselves from the keg. But, at one point, a group playing poker in the basement asked Martin to fill an empty pitcher. Martin went upstairs, filled the pitcher from the keg, and brought it back to the basement, where she set it on the poker table.  Id.  Over the course of the night, Brothers had several drinks, but Martin did not monitor his drinking.  The last guests began to leave about 3:30 a.m., and Brothers went down to the basement to tell Chambers and Michalik it was time to go. A fistfight then ensued between the three of them.  Michalik died a short time thereafter.  An action was brought claiming, in part, that Martin furnished alcohol in violation of the Indiana’s Dram Shop Act.  Id.    

The Indiana Supreme Court found that Martin was not liable under the Dram Shop Act because she and Brothers jointly possessed the same alcohol, and thus could not furnish it to each other.  Id. at 328.  Brothers had ordered the keg and paid for it using funds that belonged to both him and Martin.  As such, Martin did not transfer alcohol to him because the two jointly possessed it.  Id.        

Similar to criminal liability, it would seem that parents would not necessarily be required to regularly inspect the cup of every minor that comes into their home or attends a party or gathering, or else face civil liability.  However, if alcohol is furnished or provided to minors who are visibly intoxicated, then parents could face civil liability for the injury that those individuals cause. 

As the Martin case demonstrates, these types of cases are or can be incredibly dependent on the facts and circumstances in each case.  If you have questions whether you have a civil action or are facing possible liability, an experienced Indiana personal injury attorney can help you with the questions you are bound to have.  Contact the attorneys at Keffer Barnhart LLP today.  We stand ready to provide our clients with trusted representation and accurate information regarding the law, and its application to their individualized case.  Act now and contact us today at 1-800-NOT-GUILTY or (317) 857-0160.