Court: Party hosts not to blame for underage drinking and crash

It’s not easy for any parent or loved one to lose a family member or friend. It is natural to look for someone to blame in such instances, and sometimes that blame is just. If someone owed a responsibility to someone and their negligence leads to death, then the courts will often hold negligent parties accountable, criminally, civilly or both.

We usually don’t cover out-of-state cases on this blog, but a recent ruling in an Illinois underage drinking case is worth covering. In a civil case against a couple who hosted a 2006 party, the court found that the party hosts aren’t legally accountable for a fatal DWI crash caused by one of their underage party guests.

According to news reports, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in favor of the defendants today. The court based its decision on its belief that the party hosts didn’t claim any responsibility over their party guests. Also, they reportedly did not provide the alcohol to underage guests.

The court ruled differently than another court in the criminal case against the parties.

In this underage DWI incident, the man who drank and then drove was 18 years old. In other words, he was too young to legally drink. While that is true, the court highlighted the fact that even though the crash victim was underage, he was still legally an adult, making him more responsible for his actions.

The court apparently saw it as a stretch to blame the defendants for a mistake that another adult chose to make. What do you think about this case or issue in general? Do you think that the couple in this case owed a duty to their 18-year-old party guest?


Daily Herald: “Lake Co. couple not liable in underage drunk driving death,” Jeff Engelhardt, 19 May 2011

He has won jury trial cases in misdemeanor and felony cases and in DWI’s and non-DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. He is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

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