“Ask Your Attorney” Column

About Hosting An Underage Drinking Party

Dear Counselor: My brother has to be crazy.  He has decided to host a party for his 17 year old son, where he knows drinking will take place.  He says he’d rather have them all at his house than out driving.  He says that it’s safer this way.  When I asked him about what happens if things get rowdy, and suggested that someone could get hurt, he said he has plenty of insurance to protect him.  Good idea, or not?

Dear Client: I’d say without hesitation that you were the saner brother.  The phrase “playing with fire” comes to mind  —  even if your brother may have good intentions.  In addition to all the sensible reasons that no doubt occur to you when discussing the wisdom of hosting an underage drinking party, your brother’s assumption that his homeowner’s insurance policy will protect him from damage claims has just been ruled incorrect by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in the case of Schinner v. Gundrum.  In the Gundrum case, decided July 12, 2013, our Supreme Court ruled that a homeowner’s insurance policy did not cover damages for injuries which a partygoer sustained after he was attacked by another guest.  The Court found that the host should have known that the combination of underage partygoers, alcohol and party games like beer pong would create a powder keg —  and that these circumstances were certainly not accidental, but rather intentional.  And, therefore, the resultant damages were not covered by his insurance.  The Court said that granting coverage would “send the wrong message about underage drinking parties” because it would be taken to mean that insurance companies will be required to pick up the bill for such conduct  —  not something that promotes good public policy.  So, the lesson is that if your brother chooses to facilitate underage drinking, he will run the risk of having to pay big bucks himself for any damages or injuries that occur as a consequence of the party.  Not a good bet.   Therefore if common sense fails to persuade him not to host that party, the chance of losing his money might.

John L. Maier, Jr.
Marcus Weden

Sweet & Maier, S.C., Attorneys
114 N. Church St.
Elkhorn, WI 53121