Be Wary of Illinois Social Host Liability Law During the Holidays

The last thing we want to worry about during the holiday season is personal injury and wrongful death. However, every host and parent needs to be aware of a premises liability doctrine known as the Illinois’ Social Host Liability Law and how it may effect the manner in which you conduct your next holiday party.

Illinois passed a social host liability law in 2004. This law targets adults who sell or otherwise provide alcohol to minors. This means that liability can be attributed to any adult over the age of 21 who provides access to alcohol to a minor who is later injured or killed or causes injury or death to another. The law is technically called the Drug or Alcohol Impaired Minor Responsibility Act (740 ILCS 58/1) but commonly referred to as the “social host liability law. The impetus for the law was a ruling by the Supreme Court of Illinos in which two brothers age 18 and 21 and their father were held liable for the death of a 16 year old girl who was a guest in their home (Wakulich V. Mraz [203 Ill 2d 223). Elizabeth Wakulich was pressured by the two boys to drink a full quart bottle of Goldschager liquor. She lost consciousness. The boys moved her to the family room of their home, where they observed her “vomiting profusely and making gurgling sounds.” They later removed her vomit-saturated blouse and placed a pillow under her head to prevent aspiration. The boys refused to drive Elizabeth home, did not contact her parents, did not seek medical attention, and “actually prevented other individuals at the home from calling 911 or seeking medical intervention.” During the subsequent morning, the father, Dennis “ordered” his sons to remove the unconscious girl from their home, which they did. Elizabeth died later that day from alcohol poisoning.

The Supreme Court in Wakulich rejected the theory of social host liability on the basis of then established Illinois common law which recognized no cause of action for injuries arising our of the sale or gift of alcoholic beverages and cited the legislative enactment of the Dramshop Act which created a form of no fault liability upon establishments licensed to sell liquor wherein an intoxicated patron subsequently causes personal injury or wrongful death to a third party. The Court reasoned this limited and exclusive legislation in this case excluded them from creating a cause of action in the Wakulich case. The Court stated that this was the role of the Legislature.

Instead, the Court found the Mraz’ liable on the theory of voluntary undertaking theory of liability finding that the Mraz’ liability arose by virtue of their voluntary assumption of duty to care for Elizabeth after she became unconscious constituting affirmative conduct amounting to an assertion of control over an inebriated and significantly impaired person, increasing the risk of harm to that person and/or others.

As Chicago Personal Injury Attorneys of over 25 years, Grazian and Volpe advises our clients never to serve alcohol to minors in any setting. No longer can a minor drink wine with his or her family at the holiday meal-adult supervision may only lead to adult liability for any injuries or deaths. We will be posting more blogs at discussing the full implications of social host liability and the interesting and confusing decisions interpreting its’ application. John Grazian will be discussing this issue as it effects family parties, work events and work injuries on WCIU, You and Me in the Morning during the month of December. Remember, Grazian and Volpe wants you to stay safe this Holiday Season but if you can’t stay safe-stay with Grazian and Volpe.

Grazian & Volpe, Part of the Lloyd Miller Law Group