Parents liable for underage drinking at home

Parents liable for underage drinking at home

May 15, 2007

By ERICA ESTEP
6 News Reporter

LOUDON COUNTY (WATE) -- The arrests of two Loudon County parents for contributing to the delinquency of minors at an after prom party is highlighting the law involving alcohol and teens in Tennessee.

Despite the possibility of legal or even deadly consequences, many adults continue to supply alcohol to teens. Now, there is a new state law that cracks down on parents who let their kids drink at home.

Under previous state law, adults weren't liable as long as they didn't provide the alcohol.

The new law states that parents are liable if they have any role with the alcohol, even if they're trying to take the keys.

Supervising any party that has alcohol can land the parents in trouble. "I've had cases where not only have been charged criminally, but they've incurred significant civil liability," says Knoxville attorney Greg Isaacs. 

Isaacs has a message for parents who think it's okay to let their teenagers drink as long as an adult is supervising.

"No, no, no, because recent Tennessee cases have held that if you assume a duty, if you take nine keys and you don't take the tenth key, someone opens the window and gets out, you are liable," Isaacs says. 

Contributing to the delinquency of a minor is a misdemeanor. But parents could face jail, a criminal record and stiff fines, not to mention what the underage drinkers go through.

"You are contributing to the delinquency of a minor," Isaacs explains. "Your child can lose his license for a year and it can also have consequences unforeseen with academics and employment and you can be civilly liable for hundreds of thousands of dollars."

That's barring anything serious like a drunk driving death.

"It's not okay because it's UT vs. Alabama," Isaacs stresses. "It's not okay because it's prom night. It's not okay because we're at the lake. The Legislature has spoken very clearly and in the state of Tennessee, you can't drink until you're 21, period."

The key is education for the parents and the kids. You open yourself to lawsuits if you allow other parents' kids to drink at your home.

But even if its your own teenager who's doing the drinking, you can face criminal charges if caught.

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