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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Did You Know California Law Forbade Suing Adults who Supplied Booze to a Drunk-driving Minor who Killed your Kid?

...That's About to End

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today signed a measure that will end that prohibition.

The governor signed AB 2486, written by Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) after the measure – jointly sponsored by the Consumer Attorneys of California and Mothers Against Drunk Driving – sailed through both houses of the Legislature with virtually no opposition.

Although it is illegal to supply alcohol to a minor under state law, California is one of just three states that prohibit a civil recourse even in cases that end with teen deaths. By ending that restriction, AB 2486 seeks to boost responsible behavior and deter adults from providing alcohol to minors. Entitled the Teen Alcohol Safety Act of 2010, the measure will allow a civil action to be brought against an adult “social host” who spawns tragedy by providing alcohol to underage teens.

A lawyers' group co-sponsored the measure along with Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

“We’re very grateful for the governor’s signature and support,” said Christopher B. Dolan, Consumer Attorneys of California president. “As we’ve said all along, this effort is about saving young lives. We hope that by strengthening the legal consequences, adults will think twice before providing alcohol to teens.”

Not that it negates Mr. Dolan's or any of his organization's 3,000 attorney members, of course, AB2486 will provide much new work for members of CAOC and many other attorneys.

California has seen a surge in recent years of teens hospitalized or even killed after engaging in binge drinking. Some cases involved parents or other adults knowingly providing alcohol to teens.

The bill was inspired by the tragic death of Shelby Allen, a 17-year-old from Redding, Calif., who died of alcohol poisoning in December 2008 at a friend’s home with the parents present.

When efforts to seek criminal prosecution failed, Shelby’s parents attempted to pursue answers through the civil courts only to be rebuffed by California’s barrier against such lawsuits. An attorney for her parents brought that restriction to the attention of CAOC, which enlisted MADD California in supporting the bill.

Under AB 2486, the families of a minor injured or killed by alcohol would still need to prove in court the elements of negligence – that an adult breached their responsibility to uphold the law and knowingly provided alcohol. Because of the measure’s limited scope, its greatest impact would be to act as further deterrence to help keep parents from promoting behavior that runs counter to common sense and criminal law.

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