Here's a summary of social host liability law by The Illinois Liquor Commission -- something parents should know. The unfortunate case discussed below occurred in 2012. The Illinois Supreme Court just published its decision about the 2012 event.
David Bogenberger attended a pledge event at the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house at Northern Illinois University, where an evening of binge drinking ensued. By the end of the night, his blood alcohol level would reach more than five times the legal limit. David lost consciousness and died during the night.
The court described the wrongful death of the 18-year-old college freshman as the result of an evening of “vodka-laden hazing.” The blood alcohol level of the student reached 0.43.
The student’s father alleged that the fraternity required prospective pledges to attend an event called “Mom and Dad’s Night.” The event revolved around a theme of each pledge traveling from room to room in the house to learn the identity of his “Greek Mother and Father.” In seven different rooms, a fraternity member and a sorority member directed the young men to drink vast quantities of vodka.
The deceased young man's father alleged that the goal of the mandatory event in the fraternity was for the pledges to drink several four-ounce cups of vodka until they could not walk straight. The pledges who began to lose consciousness were placed in designated beds and periodically checked to make sure they were positioned so they would not choke if they vomited. Some of the fraternity members instructed others not to call 911.
As a general rule in Illinois, there is usually no liability for the social host of an event where alcohol is served. The trial court followed the general rule and found no liability. The general question is whether the host of an event involving alcohol has a duty with respect to the alcohol consumed and the actions of a person who becomes intoxicated. The Illinois Appellate Court reversed the County Court's decision, and the Supreme Court then rendered an interesting decision.
We have long recognized that every person owes a duty of ordinary care to all others to guard against injuries which naturally flow as a reasonably probable and foreseeable consequence of an act, and such a duty does not depend upon contract, privity of interest or the proximity of relationship, but extends to remote and unknown persons.
Citing Illinois’ hazing statute, 720 ILCS 5/12C-50, the court discussed the difference between merely hosting a party with alcohol -- and the required consumption of alcohol in the context of hazing.
The court cited Illinois appellate decisions rejecting attempts to hold universities liable for harm imposed on one student by another student. The court also noted decisions of other states addressing the liability of national fraternity organizations, such as a case from the Supreme Court of Kentucky, in which the court determined such organizations do not have sufficient resources to be in a position to monitor and control their local chapters’ activities.
However, the active fraternity members participated in the event and made poor decisions to not seek medical intervention after the decedent became unconscious. Hazing is not only against the law in Illinois, it is against the University’s rules and the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity’s rules. As such, the court found that a jury, rather than a judge, should determine whether the fraternity members and NIU Chapter breached their duty of care owed to the pledges.
Although finding the issue more difficult as to the sorority members, the court again referred to their active participation in the event. Since this was in violation of the Illinois Hazing Statute, the fraternity and sorority members could all potentially be held liable for the death.
The full case: BOGENBERGER, v. PI KAPPA ALPHA CORPORATION, INC.
In Illinois, the Social Host Law holds adults accountable for underage drinking that occurs in the home.
• If you allow or host a party at your house and provide alcohol to people under age 21 (or if you know or should have known that they are drinking alcohol), you may be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. This may result in a fine. Note that you can be held responsible whether you provide the alcohol or not, AND whether you are home or not.
• If a minor who was drinking at your house injures or kills someone, you may be guilty of a Class 4 felony. This could result in both a fine and/or jail time.
• You will not be guilty of violating the law if you request help from the police to help remove the underage drinkers and stop the gathering. This only holds if you call the police — you are not off the hook if the police show up after a complaint from a neighbor, and you pretend to thank the police for their help.