California has had a long history of protecting social hosts from civil liability with regards to alcohol-related injuries. The voluntary consumption of alcohol, and not its furnishing by a social host, has been held to be the proximate cause of injury resulting from the use of alcohol. Sadly, as the case of Allen v. Lieberman shows, these protections have even been applied to hosts who have provided alcohol to minors.
Shelby Allen was 17 years old when she went for a sleepover at the home of her 16-year-old friend Kayli Liberman. After Kayli's parents went to bed, Shelby obtained vodka from the Libermans' bar, consumed 15 shots, began vomiting and passed out. Kayli propped Shelby's head against the toilet, took Shelby's cell phone, closed the bathroom door and went to bed.
The next morning, Kayli told her father they had been drinking and Shelby had been sick. The father went to work without checking on Shelby because he had been told Shelby was okay and he did not want to invade the space of a teenage female behind a closed bathroom door.
When another friend checked on Shelby later that morning, it did not sound like Shelby was breathing. The friend informed Kayli's sister, who called Kayli's father at work. Kayli's father returned home to check on Shelby. He could not find a pulse and Shelby did not appear to be breathing, so the father called 911 and began administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Shelby was pronounced dead later that morning. Her blood-alcohol content was 0.339 percent at the time of death.
Shelby's parents, Steve and Debbie Allen, sued Kayli Liberman and her parents, Wallace and Debby Liberman, for wrongful death. The trial court ultimately granted the Libermans' motion for summary judgment, ruling that the lawsuit brought by Shelby's parents was barred by California's social host immunity statute. (Civ. Code, § 1714, subd. (c).)
The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment, but noted a promising change in the law:
[The] Legislature added an exception to social host immunity in 2010. It amended section 1714 to add the following: "(d)(1) Nothing in subdivision (c) shall preclude a claim against a parent, guardian, or another adult who knowingly furnishes alcoholic beverages at his or her residence to a person whom he or she knows, or should have known, to be under 21 years of age, in which case, notwithstanding subdivision (b), the furnishing of the alcoholic beverage may be found to be the proximate cause of resulting injuries or death. [¶] (2) A claim under this subdivision may be brought by, or on behalf of, the person under 21 years of age or by a person who was harmed by the person under 21 years of age." According to an Assembly bill analysis of Assembly Bill No. 2486 (2009-2010 Reg. Sess.) as amended on June 29, 2010, it appears the statute was amended as the result of Shelby's death.
This year, Effres & Associates used the new exception to the social host immunity to obtain a large settlement on behalf of a client named Jonny. Around midnight on the evening of July 13, 2013, Jonny, 21, was struck by a Ford pickup truck being driven by a 20-year-old named David. The incident resulted from a house party at the residence of Diosdado.
Diosdado had given his son John permission to throw his 20th birthday party at their residence. The party took place in the garage and under a large tent that was set up in front of the garage. There were as many as 50‐60 guests at the party, including Jonny and others who were between the ages of 19 and 21 years old. A beer keg was provided and guests were allowed to bring additional alcoholic beverages to the party.
Towards the end of the evening, there was an altercation that became violent. A group of guests led by David, was told to leave. David assembled his group into his Ford pickup truck and drove away. Meanwhile, Jonny was in the street picking up garbage bins that had been knocked over by other party guests. David crashed the Ford pickup truck into the garbage bins and struck Jonny, causing him to suffer a closed head injury, a closed left radial mid shaft fracture, a dislocated wrist, lacerations, and abrasions.
Effres & Associates filed the lawsuit and contented David was negligent in the operation of his vehicle and Diosdado knowingly furnished alcoholic beverages at his residence to David, whom he should have known to be under 21 years of age, and the furnishing of the alcoholic beverage was the proximate cause of Jonny's injuries. (Civ. Code, § 1714, subd. (d).)
David's auto insurance carrier tendered their $100,000 policy limit. Diosdado disputed liability; however, after Steven Effres took his deposition his homeowners insurance carrier tendered their $300,000 policy limit.
Jonny's injuries were foreseeable and preventable. If Diosdado had required all guests to show ID to prove they were of legal drinking age, David would not have been intoxicated and Jonny would have enjoyed the party. Jonny's story should be a lesson to all social hosts: if you are hosting a party with alcohol, check IDs.