Serving Alcohol to Minors Can Result in Criminal and Civil Liability

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Under Pennsylvania’s Dram Shop Act, Criminal Liability is Not the Only Sanction for Serving Alcohol to Minors

Over the weekend, local news outlets reported that two individuals were criminally charged with serving alcohol to minors, in connection with the DUI deaths of two high school football players last summer. Jodie and Stephen Tierney, of Windsor Township, were charged with providing alcohol to teenagers and permitting them to drink in their home. According to the reports, on June 16, 2015, the teenagers had been drinking in the Tierney home prior to getting in a minivan and crashing into a utility pole. The Tierneys were recently charged with involuntary manslaughter, child endangerment, furnishing alcohol to minors and corruption of minors.

In addition to having to defend a criminal suit, the Tierneys may have to face civil liability. Under Pennsylvania law, individuals in a private home are not civilly liable for serving alcohol to adults who then become intoxicated and injure themselves or others. The situation is different, however, in the case of minors. If an adult provides alcohol or malt beverages to minors, civil liability may be imposed even if intoxication is not established. If injuries or deaths occur, the adult providing the alcohol may be liable and damages imposed. 47 Pa.C.S. Section 4-493.

While it is too early to determine whether there are sufficient facts to support civil liability should there be a filing in the Tierney case, the criminal complaint raises facts which are certainly significant. Namely, it is alleged that at the time of the crash, the driver’s alcohol level was measured at .094, and the crash was caused by a combination of speed and excessive steering “exacerbated by alcohol impairment.” The criminal complaint also alleges that one of the adults purchased the alcohol that the teens were drinking on the night of the crash. Specifically, hours before the crash, it is alleged that at least one witness saw the teenagers drinking several drinks at the Tierney home. Further, the day of the crash was not the only occasion when an adult provided alcoholic beverages to minors. It is alleged that on a number of occasions the adults in the home were aware that minors would be driving after drinking alcohol.

We may not be able to legislate comprehensive rules prohibiting all poor parental judgments. Holding culpable individuals responsible, to the fullest extent of the law, however, is one step in the right direction and key to preventing tragedies such as this one from happening in the first place.