In a recent California Supreme Court case (case number S189577), a court found that a person selling alcohol to a minor that leads to the injury or death of another can be found liable for the injury or death.
The decision stems from a wrongful death case where the defendant, Jessica Manosa, held a party at her parents’ home without their knowledge. Manosa, who was underage at the time of the incident, allowed friends who were invited to the party to enter for free but charged an entry fee for those who she did not know. She had a friend stand in front of the door and charged an entry fee to those who were not invited. Once the entry fee was paid, guests were allowed to enter the house and drink alcohol that Manosa provided.
One guest, Thomas Garcia, paid a $20 fee for him and his friends to enter the party. Garcia admitted to drinking before the party and witnesses testified to seeing him consume alcohol during the party. After exhibiting aggressive and rowdy behavior, he was asked to leave. Manosa’s friend, Andrew Ennabe, escorted Garcia to his car.
One of Garcia’s friends spat on Ennabe, who proceeded to chase the friend into the street. Garcia, who by this time was driving in his car, struck Ennabe. Ennabe later died from his injuries.
Garcia was eventually convicted of felony manslaughter in connection with Ennabe’s death and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. However, Ennabe’s parents filed a wrongful death action lawsuit against Manosa and her parents, citing general negligence, premises liability, and liability under California Business and Professions Code Section 25602.1 (which prohibits the selling of alcohol to an obviously intoxicated minor). Manosa’s family argued that they were not liable under Business and Professions Code Section 25602.1 because they were not a commercial business selling alcohol.
The trial court initially sided with Manosa’s family. However, upon appeal, the California Supreme Court granted a new trial and Manosa’s family was found liable for the wrongful death of Ennabe, stating that Business and Professions Code 25602.1 is not confined to commercial, profit-generating endeavors and can include any individual acting as a social host like Manosa. Manosa’s actions were found to be within the meaning of Business and Professions Code Section 25602.1; therefore she was liable for Ennabe’s death.
Under California Business and Professions Code Section 25602.1, a person who is licensed to sell alcohol in the state of California can be found liable for selling, furnishing, or giving away alcohol to an obviously intoxicated minor. However, a non-licensed person can also be found liable under Business and Professions Code Section 25602.1 if a sale occurred. As a non-licensee, if Manosa had furnished or gave away the alcohol instead of selling it, even to an intoxicated minor, she may not have been found liable for Ennabe’s death.
This ruling deals a significant legal blow to party hosts in California, who were long protected from alcohol-related lawsuits. Young people who host underage drinking parties and charge for admission can now be held liable if an intoxicated guest hurts himself/herself or another.
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