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Florida’s Open House Party Statute: Don’t Be The “Cool” Parents!

Many of our friends have “kids” who are in the 18-20 year old range.  Whether they are older high school students or younger college students, many of them want to have “a few friends over” to Mom and Dad’s house.  Spring Break, graduation and summer are approaching and many parents are under pressure to allow some sort of gathering at their house.  Inevitably, alcohol becomes a factor.  Whether to be the “cool” parents or just to try and control the situation, many parents allow underage people to “party” at their house.

It is an understandable, perhaps even laudable reaction by parents to have their children drink at their own home if they are going to drink at all.  But, in the State of Florida, here’s a word of advice:  DON’T DO IT!

Under Florida law, parents can potentially be liable for ANY injury resulting from an “Open House Party.”  Florida Statute section 856.015(2) prohibits any parent from allowing an “open house party” at their residence:

(2) A person having control of any residence may not allow an open house party to take place at the residence if any alcoholic beverage or drug is possessed or consumed at the residence by any minor where the person knows that an alcoholic beverage or drug is in the possession of or being consumed by a minor at the residence and where the person fails to take reasonable steps to prevent the possession or consumption of the alcoholic beverage or drug.

Fla. Stat. § 856.015(2).  Section 856.015(3) actually makes an “open house party” a second degree misdemeanor.  More importantly, if a minor consumes alcohol or drugs at an “open house party,” subsection (5) provides that the parent is liable for any injury the minor “causes or contributes to causing” to him/herself or to others.

Well, you might argue that whatever function you want to have at your house isn’t technically a “party.”  Doesn’t matter!  The statute defines an “open house party” as any “social gathering.”  So – here’s the short story, any “social gathering” at your house that includes people under the age of 21 can subject you to liability if anyone consumes alcohol or takes drugs.

Need more convincing?  Here’s an example of how the statute can work, or at least be argued by a clever attorney working for the people.   A single father was living with his son, a 20 year old college student.  The father went out to dinner.  On the way out – he passed his son and two girls in the kitchen.  One girl was 21, the other was 20 years old.  The group indicated they were going out to dinner and then coming back to watch a movie at the house.  Sounds harmless, almost lame, right?

The group went to dinner and bought a 12 pack of beer on the way back to the father’s house.  The group all consumed some of the beer and watched a movie at the father’s house.  Sometime in the early hours of the morning, the underage girl decides she wants to leave.  The son drives the 20 year old girl safely home, dropping her off at her doorstep.

The 20 year old girl then decides to meet up with an entirely different group who is still partying.  She gets into a car driven by another man who was never at the father’s house.  Unfortunately, the driver had used cocaine and was legally drunk.  The 20 year old girl and the male driver die when he drives them into a utility pole.

All of the unfortunate events leading directly to the girl’s death were unknown to the son.  They were also unknown to the father, who was asleep in his bed.  Yet, both the father and the son were sued by the estate of the deceased girl!  The allegation was that the “open house party” at the father’s home caused the 20 year old girl to make the poor decision of getting into a car driven by someone who was impaired.  Seems crazy, but it happens.

So, when your children come to you about having a “party” or a “few people over” – think about Florida’s Open House Party statute and take a pass.  Either that, or take every “reasonable step to prevent the possession or consumption” of drugs or alcohol at your house.  Fla. Stat. § 856.015(2).

It’s not just a good idea, it’s the law.