Underage DUI Death Results in Criminal Charges, Civil Lawsuit

The teenage son of a state trooper was killed last year following a wedding reception where he allegedly consumed alcohol purchased by the underage son of the hosts, the father and mother of the bride.
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Now, the hosts are facing criminal charges for aiding and abetting underage drinking, and several businesses involved in furnishing the alcohol have been named in a civil lawsuit filed by the decedent’s parents.

Reports indicate the decedent’s parents may also sue the hosts separately for wrongful death.

The case is a tragic example of why hosts should never be lax when it comes to teens and alcohol, even when the atmosphere of the event is jovial.

News reports indicate decedent was with his 19-year-old friend when he walked into a local liquor store and purchased a fifth of whiskey. The purpose was to share it among a small group of teen friends, who had been invited last minute to the wedding reception.

In addition to consuming this liquor, the teen reportedly drank wine served by a catering service owned by the groom.

The host parents had encouraged the teens to stay the night, and that was the plan. Those who didn’t plan on staying had indicated they would call their parents for a ride. And decedent did this. He texted his mother and said he needed a ride. His father rose from bed to come get him. But for some unknown reason, despite pleas from his friend and bride’s mother, the teen got into his vehicle and drove away. Seven miles down the road, he lost control of the car and careened off the road into a tree. He had been traveling nearly 90 mph.

His father, the state trooper, had returned home to get his wife after he went to the party and learned he had left. The couple came across the accident scene where their son had been pronounced dead as a result of the fatal DUI crash.

While the criminal case proceeds, the civil case is still pending. It was filed under the state’s dram shop law, which allows businesses and individuals that sell and/or furnish alcohol to minors or intoxicated persons to be held liable for injuries caused if that person gets behind the wheel of a vehicle drunk.

In this state, we have Alabama Code Section 6-5-71, which is the right of a spouse, child, parent or other person for damages for injury resulting from the illegal sale or distribution of alcohol. It holds that if a person is injured due to a drunk driver, they may seek compensation from any person or business that illegally provided alcohol to that driver.

When businesses are held accountable under the statute, it’s called “vendor liability.” When responsibility rests on the shoulders of an individual, it’s called “social host liability.” Although social hosts aren’t bound by laws that would otherwise be applicable through the Alcoholic Beverage control board, they do still have a duty to stop serving guests who are intoxicated and to refrain from serving guests who are underage.

Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 1-866-942-9315 to speak with a Montgomery personal injury lawyer.

Additional Resources:
Raleigh trial hinges on underage drinking at wedding, July 28, 2015, By Anne Blythe, The News & Observer
More Blog Entries:
New Data: Traffic Fatalities in 2014 Reveal Injury Risks, July 30, 2015, Montgomery Drunk Driving Accident Attorney Blog