It’s no secret that high school and college age kids have parties, and that alcohol is often served at these parties.  As such, parents may wonder what happens if their son or daughter throws a party at their house and alcohol is present.  Could the parents be exposed to social host liability? 

California absolves social hosts of liability for providing alcohol to guests who are of legal drinking age.  California law explicitly states that furnishing alcohol is not the cause of injuries resulting from intoxication, but rather the consumption of alcohol is what caused the injuries.  This means it is the drinker who is at fault, not the person who serves them.  The rules, however, change dramatically if the drinker is under 21 years old.

Serving Alcohol to Minors and California Law

Serving alcohol to people under 21 years old is strictly prohibited.  If you serve alcohol to a minor, you are liable for any injuries the minor suffers and any injuries the minor causes to other people because of their intoxication.  This means if an intoxicated minor drives home drunk and crashes, the person who served the minor is liable for their injuries and the injuries of anyone else who was hurt in the accident.  This exposes the server to potentially unlimited financial liability as the server is liable for the injured person(s)’ medical bills, lost wages, damaged property, future care, pain and suffering, and other damages.

The host, or the one who serves the alcohol, need not know that the minor was underage to be held liable.  The server is liable if they merely ”should have known” that the minor was underage.  Actual knowledge of the minor’s age is not required. 

What qualifies as “furnishing” alcohol to a minor depends on the facts and circumstances of the case.  Generally, ”furnishing” alcohol means having control of the alcohol and making an action to supply the alcohol to the drinker.  “Furnishing” includes giving or selling alcohol to a minor.  Failure to protest or stop someone from drinking alcohol does not constitute ”furnishing.”

So, suppose you leave town for work and your teenage son or daughter throws a party at your house.  Are you liable if a teenager drinks at your house, drives home intoxicated and injures someone?  Only if you knowingly provided alcohol to the minor.  As such, you can mitigate liability for underage drinking and DUI by making sure there is no alcohol in the house, or by securing any alcohol such that it cannot be accessed by underage guests.  Unlocked liquor cabinets or beers left in the refrigerator may expose you to liability.

Premises Liability

All California property owners have a duty of care to maintain their property in a reasonably safe condition.  This means homeowners must inspect their property, repair any potentially dangerous conditions, and/or give warning of any dangerous conditions.  A homeowner who fails to keep their property in a reasonably safe condition is liable for any injuries caused by their negligence.

Slip and Falls

Wet floors are dangerous.  Slip and fall accidents may be caused by spills, leaks, ice, oil, or any other substance which causes the floor to be slippery.  Slip and falls often result in serious injuries to the head, neck, back, hip and/or spine.  So, if a partier slips on a spilled drink and hits their head, the homeowner could be liable for the injuries even though the homeowner was not present at the party.


California generally does not hold property owners liable for the crimes of third parties. There is an exception, however, if the crime could be “reasonably anticipated.”  The fact that the crime could be reasonably anticipated makes the property owner negligent, and therefore liable, for failing to stop it.

The question of whether a crime could be reasonably anticipated depends on the facts and circumstances of the case. Prior similar incidents are not necessary to prove foreseeability.  This means the host could be held liable even if an assault had never happened at their house before.

Suppose, again, that you leave town for work and your teenage son or daughter throws a party at your house.  Are you liable if a fight breaks out or someone is sexually assaulted at the party?  Alcohol increases the likelihood of violence or sexual assault, and it is foreseeable that uninvited guests will show up to teen house parties where drugs and alcohol are present.  As such, homeowners should take all reasonable steps to ensure that teen house parties involving alcohol and/or drugs are not taking place at their house.

Swimming Pools and Trampolines

Swimming pools are potentially dangerous, which is why California has swimming pool safety laws.  Property owners can be held liable for injuries suffered at their swimming pool, even if they weren’t present at the time of the accident.  Alcohol greatly increases the risk of an accident when using a swimming pool.  As such, property owners who have swimming pools are exposed to liability if a party takes place at their house.  If anyone is injured at the swimming pool, such as by a fall caused by wet floors, the property owner may be held liable.

Like swimming pools, trampolines require proper supervision and maintenance.  Failure to properly supervise or maintain a trampoline exposes homeowners to liability.  Common causes of trampoline injuries include attempting dangerous tricks and collisions when more than one person jumps at a time.  Alcohol greatly increases the probability of an accident when using a trampoline. 

Young people are naturally attracted to swimming pools and trampolines, and it is the owner’s responsibility to ensure proper supervision of minors.  Homeowners who have swimming pools or trampolines should take all reasonable steps to ensure that minors cannot access their swimming pool or trampoline unsupervised.  Teen house parties with no parental supervision are a major liability for homeowners who have a swimming pool or trampoline, especially if there is alcohol involved. 

Homeowner’s Insurance

Homeowners can limit their liability by purchasing homeowner’s insurance with sufficient coverage. Review the policy features and consider adding more coverage to minimize potential liability. Homeowner’s insurance generally covers homeowner negligence, but does not cover intentional harmful acts. 

It is important for homeowners to know that their homeowner’s insurance does not cover all types of claims, and that their insurance company may deny or limit coverage.  In this case, the homeowner will have to hire a lawyer at his own expense and defend himself in court without the insurance company’s aid.


California Legislative Information – California Civil Code Section §1714

California Legislative Information – California Business & Professions Code §25658

Judicial Council of California – Civil Jury Instruction No. 427 – Furnishing Alcoholic Beverages to Minors

James S. Iagmin Practice Areas – Premises Liability

Judicial Council of California – Civil Jury Instruction No. 1000 – Premises Liability

James S. Iagmin Practice Areas – Brain Injuries

James S. Iagmin Practice Areas – Spinal Cord Injuries

Judicial Council of California – Civil Jury Instruction No. 1005 – Property Owner’s Liability for the Criminal Conduct of Others

James S. Iagmin Blog – Swimming Pool Safety in California