Those Who “Host” Lose the Most-A Primer on Social Host-Premises Liability in Ohio

Spring has finally sprung, Ohio snow is gone and success and pride is in the air as graduation             season is upon us. Unfortunately, the smell of alcohol, death and destruction is also upon us as inevitably, social hosts will serve “minors” (persons under 18 years of age) and “underage persons” (persons under 21 years of age) alcohol, from real estate they control, with g-d-awful consequences.

Home parties have repeatedly been identified as the primary source by which youth obtain alcohol.  29% of teens in a recent survey indicated that they know of parents who host teen alcohol parties, and 25% of those teens indicated that, in the past two months, they had attended a house party where alcohol was present. Consumption of alcoholic beverages by minors and underage persons at parties (and elsewhere) presents a myriad of problems for the minor/underage person, the “host”, the community and law enforcement.  For youth, the statistics are grim. Alcohol is still the drug of choice for youth, and a major factor in the four leading causes of death among persons ages 10-24; motor vehicle crashes, unintentional injuries, homicide and suicide.   Underage drinking is a factor in nearly half of all teen automobile crashes and 60% of all youth suicides.   Teen alcohol abuse is also linked to as many as 2/3 of all sexual assaults and date rapes (of teens and college students) and is a major factor in unprotected sex among youth.

While many believe that underage drinking is an inevitable “right of passage” that adolescents can easily recover from because their bodies are more resilient, exactly the opposite is true.  The brain changes dramatically during adolescence, and this growth can be seriously inhibited by alcohol consumption. Studies reveal that alcohol consumption by adolescents results in brain damage, possibly permanent, and impairs intellectual development.   According to the National Institute of Health, youth who begin drinking alcohol before age 16 are four times more likely to become dependent on alcohol than those who wait to begin drinking until age 21.

If for some reason, the above statistics don’t scare those who furnish youth alcohol, or those who knowingly allow underage drinking at a property they own or control, the law should.

Pursuant to Ohio Revised Code §4301.69(B); Ohio’s “Social Host Law”: “No person who is the owner or occupant of any public or private place shall knowingly allow any underage person to remain in or on the premises while possessing or consuming beer or intoxicating liquor, unless the intoxicating liquor or beer is given to the person possessing or consuming it by that person’s parent, spouse who is not an underage person, or legal guardian, unless the parent, spouse who is not an underage person, or legal guardian is present at the time of the person’s possession or consumption of the beer or intoxicating liquor.”

Further, Ohio Revised Code Section §4301.69 (A) provides that:
“No person…shall furnish {beer or intoxicating liquor} to an underage person…unless the underage person is accompanied by a parent, spouse who is not an underage person or legal guardian.”          

In other words, parents who give alcohol to their teen’s friends (or knowingly allow it), even in their own homes, are breaking the law. While often thought to only apply to parents, the above-cited law in Ohio provides that no person shall furnish or knowingly allow underage drinking on the premises. Accordingly, the statute applies to bar owners as well as homeowners, lessors and others who control real estate.

Violators who knowingly allow a person under 21 to remain in their home or on their property while consuming or possessing alcoholic beverages can be held criminally liable and prosecuted (for up to 6 months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine) and everything associated with the violation can be confiscated, including personal property.

If morbid statistics and criminal liability don’t worry you, how about the prospect of being sued in civil court for all you are worth?

As a result of Ohio Supreme Court decisions (Mitseff v. Wheeler and Huston v. Konieczny) Ohio social hosts can be held civilly liable for death or injuries to:  (1) intoxicated minors [under 18 years of age] who were furnished alcohol by a social host or at a party a social host consented to, and (2) to a third-party who suffered death or injury by an intoxicated minor that was furnished alcohol by a social host or at a party a social host consented to. Ohio law denies recovery where a social host served an adult who becomes intoxicated and then kills or injures a third party. (Note, Ohio also has a number of laws regulating the sale of alcohol, most notably the "Dram Shop" laws (O.R.C. 4399.02 et. seq.), which may hold a bar owner liable for injuries to a third person caused by an intoxicated bar customer, in certain circumstances).

The bottom line, to coin a phrase, which is also the title of the nationally heralded program of Drug Free Action Alliance: “Parents Who Host, Lose The Most: Don’t be a party to teenage drinking”TM (See  

During this spring season, Prom and graduation are important milestones in young people’s lives and certainly cause for celebration. Please do your part to make this season safe for everybody. You can protect yourselves, your property and our youth by following these guidelines when hosting parties:

·    Host safe, alcohol-free activities and events for youth during prom and graduation season
·    Refuse to supply alcohol to children or allow drinking in your home or on your property
·    Be at home when your teenager has a party
·    Make sure your teenager’s friends do not bring alcohol into your home
·    Talk to others about not providing alcohol at youth events
·    Report underage drinking to your local Police Department

In other words, “With great power comes great responsibility”- Spiderman (and Stan Lee, Franklin Roosevelt, and a number of others credited with these words). So, if you own or control real property, be responsible. If not, Ohio’s laws, courts and jails will be waiting with a much more painful way to learn about social host/premises responsibility.

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