The next couple of months, with Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s all packed in, are maybe the most festive of the year. It’s a time to get together with friends and family and co-workers and enjoy good food and, often times, alcohol. In fact, December is a peak month for alcohol consumption and alcohol related car crashes. Alcohol has a dangerous effect on driving, no matter how old you are, but according to data released by the National Transportation Safety Board the effects of alcohol on young drivers, combined with less experience behind the wheel, dangerously increases the likelihood of fatal car wrecks.
The majority of automobile fatalities in this country, regardless of alcohol, are caused by drivers under the age of 26. But “every drink raises a driver’s crash risk level exponentially,” according to Deborah Hersmann, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.
The Board’s data, released earlier this year, reveals that 39 drivers between the ages of 16 and 29 were involved in fatal car wrecks with a blood alcohol content of only 0.01%. 30 of the 39 drivers were under the age of 26 and all of them had a blood alcohol content that’s approximately 98% below the legal limit in Texas. Just because it’s legal, does not make it safe because…
It is NEVER safe to drink and drive, regardless of your age or how much you have had to drink, but for young drivers, alcohol is incredibly dangerous. If that’s not enough, providing alcohol to drivers can also expose you to criminal charges and civil liability.
Under the Alcoholic Beverage Code Section 2.02, “an adult 21 years of age or older is liable for damages proximately caused by the intoxication of a minor under the age of 18 if the adult is not the minor’s parent, guardian, spouse or court ordered custodian and the adult knowingly served or provided to the minor any of the alcoholic beverages that contributed to the minor’s intoxication.” An adult can also be held liable if they “allowed the minor to be served or provided any of the alcoholic beverages that contributed to the minor’s intoxication on the premises owned or leased by the adult.” Essentially, if you are not the minor’s parent, or legal equivalent, providing alcohol to a minor or allowing a minor to be given alcohol on your property, whether you own it or lease it, could make you liable if the minor then injures someone.
In a recent court opinion from the Texas Supreme Court, Nall v. Plunkett,Texas has left the door open to civil liability for social hosts who serve alcohol to other adults as well. Plunkett had attended a New Year’s Eve party at the Nall’s home. Knowing that alcohol would be consumed at the party, the Nall’s required all attendees who stayed after midnight to spend the night, but they didn’t take any steps to prevent anyone from leaving. Shortly after 2:00 a.m., Plunkett attempted to keep another intoxicated party goer from driving home, and, in the attempt, was thrown to the grown underneath a parked car and suffered a brain injury. The Supreme Court never addresses whether the Nall’s, or any other social host, could be liable for negligently undertaking to keep their guests from leaving. The Houston Court of Appeals opinion in the case, issued before it went to the Supreme Court, didn’t either; the Houston court only said that if a social host voluntarily prevents guests who have been drinking from driving, there could be a duty to act with ordinary care. That, unfortunately, does not provide a lot of guidance.
An Illinois case may shed some light on what Nall v. Plunkett means in Texas. In the Illinois case, the social host provided alcohol to a young girl who then began vomiting and passed out. The host put a pillow under her head and left her there; they didn’t call her parents or attempt to get her medical help. The girl died the next day. The Illinois Supreme Court said that the social host could be liable in those circumstances. While the law regarding social host liability in the situations raised by the Nall case is not clear in Texas, caution and common sense should be exercised whenever you are serving alcohol to others.