The California Supreme Court recently interpreted and expanded California law to impose liability on a party host for a drunk guest that caused a motor vehicle accident when the party host charged admission to the party. Ennabe v. Manosa has important implications for liability of party hosts, property owners, and parents of minors.

In California, owners of bars or other establishments that sell alcohol can be liable for injuries caused by patrons who drank alcohol at the establishment. However, California law  creates immunity liability for social hosts that provide alcohol at a social function. Business & Professions Code Section 25602.1 creates a narrow exception allowing for liability when a person, who may not be licensed by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, sells alcohol to an obviously intoxicated minor.

The California Supreme Court found that a person who charged admission to party goers who were mostly under 21 years of age for a party at her parent’s vacant rental property could be held liable when a drunk minor paid for admission, drank alcohol at the party, and later caused a car accident killing another person. The ruling applies the same standard of care that would be expected from a bar or restaurant that serves alcohol because of the fact that the teenager charged admission to the party. It should be noted that the ruling would have been different if the persons drinking alcohol were over the age of 21 and allowed to drink alcohol lawfully.

The party’s hostess charged $3-$5 for admission in order to cover the cost of alcohol. One entrant, Thomas Garcia, who was under 21 years old, was visibly intoxicated when he arrived, paid admission, and continued to drink alcohol at the party. Mr. Garcia was asked to leave. He subsequently ran over another party goer with his car. Mr. Garcia is currently in prison for manslaughter.

The Supreme Court likened charging admission to opening up a nightclub for the night. This case creates several exceptions that still continue. For example, if the person was not charged admission, the host would be immune from liability under the social host immunity found in Civil Code Section 1714(c). In addition, if the person was charged admission but drank alcohol from a source other than the party host, the host would not held liable.

Here, the Court emphasized that the host charged admission and served alcohol to obviously intoxicated minors, which is what caused liability. Although the plaintiff will need to return to the trial court to determine damages, the Supreme Court’s decision imposes additional liability to a party host who charges admission and serves intoxicated minors.