Do You Know Where Your Children Are? How the Law in Georgia Applies When an Adult Serves Alcohol to Minors, Resulting in a Car Accident
Kids make mistakes. In spite of our best efforts as parents, our offspring can get themselves into vats of deep, deep yogurt when they’re away from us. If you’re the parent of a teenager, you have plenty of worries to keep you up at night. We don’t mean to add to your fearful burden, but trust us – things could probably be worse.
You already know that you are responsible for your children’s upbringing and their education. You must show them the moral ropes. You know you do your best to keep them safe and to give them the skills to be good decision makers and productive members of society. But, what if those efforts aren’t enough? What if somebody else leads them astray? Can irresponsible others be made to shoulder the burden of our child’s mistakes? Who takes the blame when a youngster dies?
In the sad case of Mowell v. Marks, 269 Ga. App. 147 (2004), a teen aged girl took a wrong turn. She attended a party at the home of a friend, consumes too much alcohol then attempted to drive home. She lost control of her vehicle, the car rolled and she was pronounced dead at the scene. Her blood alcohol content was .16 percent.
In this case it came to light that the drinking party that led to this girl’s death was known about and helped along by the adult mother of the girl at whose house the party was held. This mother advised the children where and how to set up the beer kegs and was fully aware that the party would be attended by minor children in addition to her own.
The mother of the victim sued this woman and others who hosted the party under Georgia’s dram shop statutes as well as other negligence and liability provisions. The trial court dismissed these claims and the appellate court, after due consideration agreed with the trial court’s decision.
Georgia law holds that it is the intoxicated person, not the supplier of the alcohol who is ultimately responsible for his own act of drinking. Even in the case of an underage drinker, we are each expected to exercise ordinary care in our actions. However, if the intoxicated person’s actions cause injury to others, those others may claim and be eligible for damages. In this situation, the only one harmed by the girl’s drinking was herself. The mother, though deeply wounded emotionally and suffering an awful loss could not claim damages.
It is worth knowing, however, that under these tragic circumstances, there may be another recourse to he had. A different statute, O.C.G.A. § 51-1-18 (a) says: “The custodial parent or parents shall have a right of action against any person who shall sell or furnish alcoholic beverages to that parent’s underage child for the child’s use without the permission of the child’s parent.” Under this law, it may be possible for the parents of the teenager to bring a claim against the mother who provided the alcohol.
Part of what a good attorney does is to look at all possibilities allowed under the law. Even if one set of laws disallows a claim, another legal claim may still exist.
Before you decide on a legal strategy, be sure you have checked with an attorney experienced in personal injury claims. At The Millar Law Firm we strive to go “one step farther,” and look at all of the legal possibilities. Contact us today for a free consultation.