Homeowner/Parents’ Duty to Supervise Departure of Underage Guest Who Became Intoxicated at House Party Extended to Ride Home in Car Driven by Son

Sometimes parents can try to do the right thing but end up liable for someone’s injuries anyway. In Aquino v. Higgins, 891 N.Y.S.2d 853 (4th Dept. 2009), reversed 2010 N.Y. Slip Op. 08386, 2010 WL 4642476 (November 18, 2010), the defendant parents permitted their daughter to host a party at their residence following a high school dinner dance.

Defendant father expressly told his daughter that alcohol would not be permitted to be served. Although defendant parents were home, they were not aware that there was alcohol present at the party until defendant mother entered the basement at the end of the party and observed approximately 12 beer cans.

Defendant father suspected that his son, defendant Michael Higgins, had been drinking, and he escorted his son to the son’s bedroom and instructed the son to go to bed. Meanwhile, defendant mother asked the guests whether anyone needed a ride home, but no one accepted the offer. Defendant parents had each observed the guests after discovering the alcohol, and they each testified at their depositions that none of the guests appeared to be intoxicated.

Plaintiff, however, presented the deposition testimony of other guests who testified that plaintiff appeared to be intoxicated. Defendant parents were unaware that their son had left the house to drive plaintiff and another person home until they were notified of the accident. The plaintiff’s lawsuit for the injuries their daughter sustained in the accident included a cause of action for negligent supervision in permitting their daughter to be driven home by the hosts’ son.

The Appellate Division in a 3-2 decision concluded that defendant parents satisfied their duty to provide adequate supervision for the guests at the party while the guests were under their control and that their duty did not extend to their son’s car being operated on a public road- an area not within their control.

The Court of Appeals reversed unanimously. The Court of Appeals noted that since the basis of any liability on defendants’ part rests on the duty to supervise rather than their duty as landowners, it is not dispositive that the injury occurred off premises. The court noted that the parent’s duty to supervise included a duty to properly supervise the minors’ departure from their home and found that an issue of fact exists as to whether defendants provided adequate supervision for minor guests who became intoxicated at their home.

As a result, summary judgment should not have been granted in defendants’ favor and the cause of action for negligent supervision should be reinstated. The decisions are unclear whether the plaintiff alleged a cause of action under 11-100 of the General Obligations Law, which is titled Compensation for injury or damage caused by the intoxication of a person under the age of twenty-one years.

A key to the success of such a cause of action is that the plaintiff must prove that the defendant knowingly caused intoxication or impairment of ability by unlawfully furnishing to or unlawfully assisting in procuring alcoholic beverages for such person with knowledge or reasonable cause to believe that such person was under the age of twenty-one years. The negligent supervision cause of action would not require proof that the defendant parents knowingly caused intoxication by unlawfully furnishing or unlawfully assisting in procuring alcoholic beverages.

It was based upon facts allegedly known to the parents after they discovered that alcohol was being consumed at their house, to wit. that the plaintiff was intoxicated and they owed her a duty to properly supervise her departure from their premises, which duty New York highest court just held includes the car ride home being given by their apparently intoxicated son. It seems that the court might not have believed that the defendant’s parents’ testimony that their intoxicated son had been escorted to his room and told to go to sleep should be accepted as credible as a matter of law, leaving it to the jury to make that determination.

The lawyers at Levine & Slavit have decades of experience handling personal injury claims. For over 50 years spanning 3 generations, we have obtained results for satisfied clients. We have offices in Manhattan and Long Island, handling cases in New York City, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and surrounding areas. If you or someone close to you has been injured in a motor vehicle accident, contact the personal injury lawyers at Levine & Slavit for their help. To learn more, watch our videos.

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