Washington Supreme Court - 134 Wash. 2d 491
The case involves an appeal by plaintiffs who filed a personal injury action against social hosts who provided alcohol to a minor at a wedding reception. The issue is whether the social hosts owed a duty of care to third parties injured by the intoxicated minor. The court has decided not to extend the ruling of Hansen to allow a cause of action for third persons who are injured by an intoxicated minor against the social host. Liability for social hosts would affect most adults in the state and is more unpredictable than liability for commercial hosts. The court recognizes that expecting social hosts to monitor their guests' alcohol consumption in the same way as a vendor is unrealistic and has significant social implications. The court is hesitant to expand the duty of social hosts to protect third persons, as it raises difficult questions and has far-reaching implications. The court applied the Restatement test and found that RCW 66.44.270 was not designed to protect third parties injured by intoxicated minors, but rather to protect minors from injuries resulting from their abuse of alcoholic beverages. The trial court's dismissal was affirmed.
Durham, C.J. agrees with the majority that social hosts are not responsible for injuries caused by an intoxicated minor guest to third parties. However, Durham, C.J. disagrees with the majority's interpretation of the parental exception to the criminal prohibition against providing alcohol to minors, stating that it does not mean that third parties are not protected by the statute. Instead, Durham, C.J. believes that the Defendants are not liable for the same reasons expressed in the dissent in Hansen v. Friend, where Dolliver, J. and Sanders, J. also agree with Durham, C.J.
The dissenting opinion argues that social hosts who provide alcohol to minors, in violation of criminal statutes, can be held liable for injuries caused by the intoxicated minor. The dissenting judge disagrees with the majority's analysis, which confuses the issues of duty and ultimate liability. The argument suggests that providing or selling alcohol to a minor has been identified by the legislature as the key factor in the chain of events that lead to underage drunk driving. The argument presented criticizes the decision made by the majority to absolve individuals who provide alcohol to minors of any civil liability for their actions. Imposing a duty of care upon social hosts would not release them from avoiding criminal actions, and it remains their responsibility to take necessary measures to fulfill this responsibility, such as asking guests for their ID before serving them alcohol. The argument also criticizes the majority's decision to create different civil liability for the person committing the crime of furnishing alcohol to a minor, depending on whether the minor or an innocent bystander is injured. The Hansen case established that a duty of care is imposed on social hosts who serve alcohol to a minor, and social hosts can be held liable in negligence when the minor is injured due to a breach of this duty. Although Hansen did not create a cause of action for third parties, this court recognized such an action was allowed based on the statute criminalizing furnishing alcohol to a minor. The majority's suggestion that Hansen restricted the duties of care recognized in this area is incorrect.
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