Whose fault is it?

Isobel - posted on 02/08/2011 ( 17 moms have responded )

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Are the hosts of the party responsible for the tragic freezing death of a teen?

07/02/2011 10:30:00 AM
by Sameer Vasta
A woman is taking to court the hosts of a party who allegedly permitted underage drinking and failed to ensure her teenage daughter got home safely. Are the hosts liable for the teen's tragic death?

The mother of 15-year-old Tamara Aller, who was found frozen to death after attending a birthday party in Dauphin, Manitoba, has launched a lawsuit against the hosts of the party, claiming that they failed to ensure that the young woman made it back home safely after the party.

The lawsuit also alleges that the hosts knowingly allowed access to alcohol to a minor, and that the father of the host drove Aller back after the party but dropped her off two blocks from her home, without a winter jacket, in -37C weather.

The specifics in this case are troubling, unproven, and different — particularly around the ride home after the party — from most host liability cases, but the lawsuit does provide us with the opportunity to look at the issue again.

What is the responsibility of a party host for their guests, and where does that responsibility end once the guest has left the party?

For most of us, having people over to our home for dinner, a party, or just a few drinks isn't unusual. However, if hosts are going to be held liable for the actions of their guests after the party, is our comfort level at inviting people over to our homes going to change?

Most of us play good hosts: we limit access to alcohol when people have had too much to drink, we make sure taxis are called when someone isn't in the right state to be driving, and we provide alternative drinks and activities at our get-togethers. I encourage my guests to notify me (even a short text message often works) when they get home.

As long as I've done my part to make sure I'm not sending anyone incapacitated home, I don't expect to be responsible for what my guests do after they leave my apartment. Most case law in the U.S. and Canada would agree with that assessment — hosts are generally not liable for the actions of their guests once they have left the party unless they have overtly and consciously abetted in putting them in a position to cause risk to others.

The moral implications are a little hazier than the legal realities: if you know that your guest has had too much to drink, what is your onus to make sure they get home safely? Even if you put them in a cab and send them home, if they were to get in a fight and hurt someone in front of their building, or even fall and seriously injure themselves right outside their door, would you feel responsible for providing them with the opportunity to drink enough to get into that state? The courts may not hold you liable, but what accountability would you feel?

The specific allegations of the Aller lawsuit — particularly around allowing alcohol access to minors and the alleged ride that stopped a few blocks short of home — make this particular situation much different than simply a case of social host liability.

Legally and morally, there are still a lot of questions we have when it comes to the responsibility of a host towards his or her guests. The Aller lawsuit, however, does remind us all that the next time we host a party, our obligations may not be over after everyone has left and we've washed all the dishes.

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So...who do we blame?

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Sara - posted on 02/08/2011

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I still say that no parent should be giving an underage child alcohol, especially if it's someone else's child. So, still the other parent's fault for letting her get drunk in the first place, IMO.

Sharon - posted on 02/08/2011

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No. she was a minor. The adult was in charge. If she had drowned in their pool while they stood there, they would be liable. So they are still liable. They set up this "drowning". They gave her liqour, didn't drive her all the way home, they didn't accept responsibility for their actions. It is THEIR fault.

Sara - posted on 02/08/2011

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I think it is different if it's an adult who is able to drink legally. They are legally able to take responsibility for their own actions if they drink. But giving an underage child alcohol is really just setting yourself up for trouble, it's irresponsible and morally -- I feel -- wrong. If the child is inebriated, it is your responsibility to make sure they are safe...

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Petra - posted on 02/09/2011

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There was a similar case in Edmonton about a young woman who got hosed at a bar, the bartender didn't provide her with a proper a ride home, some dudes raped her and dumped her in an alley and she got severe frostbite and suffered from exposure. The bar was held largely liable for the incident. I think in this case, the hosts will have pretty significant legal exposure for what happened, and rightly so. She was a minor, in their care, inebriated and left outside in extremely cold weather by the host (whether he knew where she lived or not, he dropped her outside and left her there). If they're not held 100% accountable, I think the proportionate responsibility will still be huge.

I'd be very interested in reading the reasons for judgment on this one after it has been tried.

Melissa - posted on 02/08/2011

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well her parents knew she wanst at home might have even allowed her to go there. We had a party when I was a kid well 16 brother was 14 it was his party brothers gf her friend and a bunch of boys one took a pill he was pretty screwed up thought cupboards were toilets tried to hit on me like not just hit on went a little over board then ended up just on the floor eyes rolled back into his head throwing up I told mum to call the ambos cause it scared me i was in tears ambos said he most likely toook something I dont know what happend after thatmum got abused the hell out of by his parents. How is it her fault if he took something we didnt know about it, my brother and I dont even or never have taken drugs. Not the same situation obviously but this girls parents should take the responsibility. When theres a party you cant control what happens with everyone

Sal - posted on 02/08/2011

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to quote our magnificent opposition leader "some times shit happens" but i know here if you allow underage drinking you can be (and often are) chraged, so there for i guess you are liable for anything that results from your choice, so i guess ultimatly yes the host of the party are repsonsible, it is very messy though because if her parents knew where she was going knowing there was going to be drinking and did nothing to stop her then that should at least void some liability, and if the parents knew she was out drinking they should of been responsible for her return, and why did he drop her 2 blocks from home??? did she go home and not get in?? then i guess it was the parents fault too messy for me, but no one what a child to die and everyone wants someone to blame..

Isobel - posted on 02/08/2011

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that's what I meant at the beginning...this raises more questions to me than can be answered...nobody would take a kid home and drop them off in MANITOBA during winter with no coat two blocks from home, it makes no sense. It also makes no sense that she was only two blocks from home...surely she could stumble there and get let in.

I think there's more to this story than meets the eye.

Isobel - posted on 02/08/2011

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what if she was afraid to go inside because her parents were going to beat the crap out of her for being drunk so she hid outside? is it still somebody else's fault? or is it HER parents'?

Lady Heather - posted on 02/08/2011

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If it's a minor - yeah I think those parents should have had more control of the situation. It's a little sketchier with adults. Personally I would never let someone just wander off from my house in that condition minor or not though.

I think as a parent you really have to know who you are leaving your kids with. How well did they know these people in the first place? Did they know there would be drinking? And who lets kids drink at their house if their parents don't know about it? Bleh.

Rosie - posted on 02/08/2011

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that's tricky. she's a minor, so it makes it different for me. do they know that her death was caused because of her alcohol consumption? if they can prove THAT, then yes i think they are responsible for her death. if they can't prove it, (which i think may be hard) then IMO no they are not. it would be the same as having a party no alcohol involved and the girl freezing to death outside after she was dropped off. how could the person be responsible then?

Brandi - posted on 02/08/2011

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The adults who hosted the party Should be accountable. The girl was in their care at the time. Why did he not take her all the way to her house in the first place? If he took the time to take her most of the way, that is stupid. BUT, also a parent should know where their child is at all times. Did the mom not know she was coming home? Also, why would she let her daughter leave the house without some sort of coat??

I think both are to blame. But, the parents hosting the party should have been more responsible. You don't invite people over and not take care of them.

Tara - posted on 02/08/2011

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Everyone is to blame. I am one of those parents who will allow my son to drink in moderation while in our home. His friends are another story. None of them would be allowed unless I had previously talked to their parents and cleared it with them. As well as made arrangements for travel and rules about leaving our home.
The details are sketchy about why she was dropped off two blocks from home instead of at home. Either way, it was the responsibility of the host to ensure this girl got home safely, but only because she is a minor.
An adult who leaves a party intoxicated and does something foolish or dangerous should be held 100% liable for their own actions. No one forced them to drink. And as an adult they are responsible for their actions, regardless of where they drank.
That being said I think it is a moral obligation to try to prevent people from leaving your party inebriated. Make alternate arrangements for sleeping over or taking cabs etc.
When we have people over for a party, everyone stays over. No one leaves if they have had even one drink, it's just more fun that way!!
:)

Katherine - posted on 02/08/2011

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There are those parents out there that say they want their son/daughter drinking at home with them and their friends. That being said it was THEIR responsibility to make sure she got home safely.

Bonnie - posted on 02/08/2011

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I would say it is the girl's parents fault for not picking her up after the party. Their daughter was a minor and they should still be taking full responsibility for her. The host's parents are also at fault for not taking her home and dropping her off two blocks from there. If the host's father was driving her, why wouldn't he just drive her all the way home?

JuLeah - posted on 02/08/2011

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I think everyone had a hand in this, her parents, the girl, her friends, the hosts .... the culture that says it is cool to drink at 15 to the point you forget your jacket .... everyone who is feeling like they wanna blame someone needs to look in the mirror and figure out what they might have done differently and do so next time ....blame won't help with the loss, it won't help anyone recover, and it won't pervent such a thing from happening again

Isobel - posted on 02/08/2011

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would it be different if it were an inebriated adult? I'm trying to wrap my head around a father dropping a teen without a coat anywhere in Manitoba in the winter time...I just don't understand.

But then again, maybe she told him that was her house...maybe she was afraid to go home and was going to sneak into her friend's window and sleep on the couch (I know I did that once or twice).

I'm sure legally he's to blame, and maybe morally too...I couldn't leave any kid anywhere without a coat unless I SAW them get in the door.

Sara - posted on 02/08/2011

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I think any adult that gives a minor alcohol has culpability in their death if it is alcohol related. I'm no legal expert, but that's my feeling. If legally, "hosts are generally not liable for the actions of their guests once they have left the party unless they have overtly and consciously abetted in putting them in a position to cause risk to others", then the adults that knowingly gave alcohol to minors are to blame, IMO.

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