It’s been a hectic few weeks, and the next few don’t promise to ease up their frenetic pace. In the chaos that is your life, Labor Day appears as an oasis of tranquility. You and your roommate decide to grill out with a few pals, hoist some brews and raise a toast to the new season. Unfortunately, your barbeque Facebook invite has made the rounds and thirty “likes” later, you have a bigger shindig on your hands than you had initially planned. But you’re over 21 and the party’s not out of control, so it’s all good, right?
Scan the crowd. Does anyone present seem overly intoxicated, under the drinking age or a combination of both? In the viewing of your guests, if you notice folks who fall into any of these categories, you could be at risk of facing a liability due to your municipality’s social host ordinance. Passed throughout towns in Wisconsin, social host ordinances were designed to stem the rise of underage drinking and quell the upsurge in drunken driving accidents. By holding responsible those who host parties in which minors become intoxicated, these ordinances attempt to deter adults contributing to this problem.
Concerned? Here are a few facts to consider before hosting your summer send-off.
1. Who qualifies as a “host”?
In its broad interpretation, the “host” refers to the adult who provides the location for minors to gather for the purpose of drinking alcohol. The violation impacts parents who think it’s better to serve teens in a “safe” environment and prevent them from leaving the premises than to let them drive drunk. Also fined could be those who reserve hotel rooms for their children, knowing that their children will be imbibing at that location. As you can see in the previous scenario, it is possible for adults to be charged when they are not present where underage drinking takes place; their supplying of the location for the party can be seen as enough to break the law. In short, if you provide minors access alcohol, the social host ordinance is a piece of legislation you should know.
2. Which guests are subject to scrutiny?
Obviously, when minors are served alcohol on your rented or owned property, you can be deemed accountable. In most towns, the ordinance has been established to protect the health of teenagers themselves. Also, cited as rationale for its inception, the policy has been created to protect the public. It is for this reason party hosts may be held liable if their intoxicated guests, who are of legal drinking age, drive drunk and get into an accident. You don’t have to host a raging party to violate this statute; your gathering of three adult friends could suffice if one guest decides to drive while intoxicated.
3. Where has this ordinance been enacted?
In Wisconsin, there is not a state-wide policy governing those who provide private space for underage drinking parties. This legislature has been set in place to complement state laws regarding teenage drinking. Of the municipalities that have created social host legislature, the parameters and penalties differ. This is why it may be helpful to consult with an attorney to see if your town has established such a policy.
You’ve worked hard. You’re an adult. Enjoy your Labor Day barbeque but make sure that it is memorable for all the right reasons.