Underage Drinking and the Social Host Law in Massachusetts

May 27, 2019
Written by C&S Insurance

If you’re a parent of teenage kids, underage drinking is an issue that should be on your radar—especially during prom and graduation season, when most teens are given extra leeway to stay out late and socialize with friends.

Last year we put together a list of graduation party ideas to help you manage the dangerous combination of a large party + teens + available alcohol.

This year, we wanted to remind everyone about Massachusetts’ underage drinking laws, a.k.a. the “Social Host Law.” You might be surprised by some of these facts. We hope you’ll take a moment to share them with the high school students in your family, alongside discussions about safe teen driving and cell phone driving laws.

Did you know…?

Your kids can be charged as social hosts, too.

There’s a common misconception that only grownups can get in trouble for giving alcohol to underage guests. Not true!! Minors (under age 21) can also be charged with violating the Social Host Law if they invite friends to your house and provide alcohol.

It doesn’t matter if you purchased the alcohol or not.

Yep, that’s right. Don’t assume you’re in the clear because you didn’t actively go out and purchase a case of beer. If you knowingly allow underage guests to possess alcohol in your home, you could still be held criminally responsible.

It doesn’t matter if you’re home or not.

When it comes to underage drinking, the “see no evil, hear no evil” defense isn’t going to cut it. If you go away for the weekend, and you know that a party is happening, you could still face criminal or civil liability charges.

Just one criminal offense can be costly.

In Massachusetts, a violation of the Social Host Law can result in a $2,000 fine and/or up to one year in prison. Underage drinking is no joke.

Civil lawsuits can be costlier still.

It’s impossible to list all the things that can go wrong among a group of over-served adults, let alone intoxicated teens. But we know that drunk driving, alcohol poisoning, and assault are three major concerns. The CDC estimates that alcohol is a factor in 4,300 deaths per year among young people under 21. Underage drinking also sends nearly 200,000 teens to the emergency room every year. And these figures don’t account for the property damage or injuries/fatalities to other drivers on the road.

If the drinking happens on your property, don’t expect your home insurance to cover the damage. Most insurance policies exclude events where criminal conduct is involved (e.g. breaking the Social Host Law).

Legal-age drinking can be dangerous, too.

As a final reminder, we all know some adult party guests can get out of hand, as well. While it’s not illegal to serve alcohol to your adult friends, you may be more exposed to host liquor liability risks than you realize. For example, did you know that if an intoxicated guest leaves your home and injures another driver on the road, you could potentially be held responsible? And while your MA home insurance might kick in to cover the cost of your defense and/or a settlement against you, the limits on your policy may be inadequate.

The takeaway? If you’re planning to host a major party—like a graduation party or a wedding—ask your agent about special event insurance. For the everyday risks associated with house guests and alcohol, ask us to review your home insurance policy limits or provide a quote for umbrella insurance, which can supplement your home and auto coverage in a variety of important ways.