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Partnership for Success: Underage Drinking

Research shows that underage drinking is a major threat to the health and safety of youth, not only with drinking and driving, which is a major cause of death among teens, but also with a host of other negative consequences such as lowered academic performance, sexual assault, fights and violence resulting in personal injury. And the earlier a young person is exposed to alcohol the more likely they are to develop life-long drinking problems. However, despite legal prohibitions against anyone providing alcohol to minors, it is still easy to for them to obtain, especially at house parties. Such gatherings have been shown to be the primary source for alcohol for underage youth; and alcohol is available at gatherings of teens, research shows they tend to drink more heavily than they would in some other venues. Even so, there are some adults who are willing to provide alcohol at such venues because they believe young people will be drinking anyway and it will be less harmful if it is supervised. However, the evidence indicates both of these assumptions are false.

What Is The Social Host Law?

Social Hosting refers to adults who knowingly or unknowingly host underage drinking parties on their property, regardless who supplies the booze. It’s all about the property the crime is being committed on. The primary purpose of the Social Host Law (RI General Laws 3-8-11.1) is to deter underage drinking parties or gatherings where adults allow minors to drink alcohol, whether or not they provide it.

First Offense: Any person over the age of 18 who violates the law shall be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $500.
Second and Subsequent Offenses: Any person who violates the law shall be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $1,000, a term of imprisonment not to exceed one year, or both. 

You may be required to make restitution or incur criminal charges if someone  is hurt, suffers from alcohol poisoning, or is killed as a result of drinking alcohol on your property.

Am I breaking the law if I allow my child's underage guest to consume alcohol in my home?

Yes. The legal drinking age in Rhode Island is 21. It is against the law to serve or provide alcohol to underage guests or to allow them to drink alcohol in your home or on property you control.

Can I be sued if my child or underage guest at my home drinks alcohol and injures someone?

Yes. You may be financially responsible if your child or underage guest injures someone or themselves after having consumed alcohol where you controlled supply, made it available, or served it. 

Does the Social Host Law apply if I rent a hotel or function room for my child's party?

Yes. Since you control the hotel or function room, the Social Host Law would apply to you. 

Will my homeowners policy cover costs of litigation and any judgement against me or my child?

You may or may not be covered, especially if the underage drinker causes injury or death by use of an automobile. Many insurance policies don’t cover situations where criminal conduct is involved.