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Mom Liable for Auto Accident Injuries Following Daughters’ Underage Drinking Party at Family Home

Does a mother have “a duty to supervise the activities occurring in her home” if her daughters, aged 16 and 17 are partying there? A Lake County, Illinois Circuit Court Judge decided that she does. Judge Christopher Starck ruled that Lauralee Pfeifer was responsible for George Baldwin, being paralyzed from the chest down in a car accident following a night of drinking Nov. 19, 2006. Baldwin was only 19 years old at the time of the incident.

Baldwin’s attorney, Patrick Salvi, said that “the growing trend in society is to hold parents accountable when serious injury or death results from otherwise preventable underage drinking.” Obviously, one way to do that is to find them liable for two and a half million dollars in damages. Salvi should be congratulated for the nice job he did for his unfortunate client.

According to the article, Pfeifer’s daughters invited teenage friends over for a party and the teenagers began drinking. Salvi stated that the mother had numerous opportunities to monitor and stop the drinking, but did absolutely nothing. Baldwin received a ride from another teen, who also was drinking that night, and the teen crashed his car into a utility box. The driver was cited for a DUI; no criminal charges were levied against Pfeifer.

The $2.5 million settlement will likely be paid in full because, according to Salvi, that amount represents the entire amount of the Pfeifer homeowner’s insurance policy. This is a significant amount of money, but it certainly does not replace the use of all of Mr. Baldwin’s lower bodily functions. An additional trial is scheduled for March 2, 2009 against the then teenage driver. Hopefully, we can report a substantial additional award at this location.

According to a recent FindLaw survey, 28 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 24 encountered underage party drinking in the last year. All states and the District of Columbia have laws prohibiting serving alcohol to minors. However, many states have exceptions that allow parents to provide alcohol to their minor children or wards. Under social host liability laws, adults who provide alcohol to anyone under the age of 21 may be held criminally liable for the minor’s injury or death or a death that the intoxicated minor causes. In addition, many states and municipalities have teen party ordinances that make it illegal to host a party where underage youth are drinking. To be liable under these standards, adults can be arrested for simply hosting a party where underage drinking occurs with their knowledge.

Individual state ‘dram shop laws’ also hold commercial hosts responsible for property damage, injuries or death resulting from alcohol being served to people who are clearly intoxicated. Typically, this type of liquor liability statute applies to restaurants and taverns.

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