Court: Man not responsible for crash caused by beer-guzzling teen at underaged daughter's party

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today a Wrentham man is not responsible for the permanent injuries a teen suffered when her boyfriend crashed their car after a party the man's daughter threw while he was away.

The state's highest court said that the family of Rachel Juliano had no claim against either Peter Simpson or his daughter Jessica under the state's "social host liability" laws, because there was no evidence Jessica actually supplied any of the beer or mixed drinks that Juliano's boyfriend consumed before they drove off and crashed into a utility pole in 2007. The crash put Juliano into a coma for three months and left her with permanent brain injuries.

The court said the state law on "social host" liability in such cases is specifically limited to criminal charges, not lawsuits and that a series of court rulings have held that proving liability in a lawsuit hinges on whether the host had been "knowingly allowing underage guests to possess alcohol in her home."

In the case of Jessica Simpson's party, the court ruled, the evidence showed that it was Juliano's boyfriend who brought a 30-pack of beer and a bottle of rum and that:

Although there were some alcoholic beverages belonging to Peter in the house, Jessica neither consumed those beverages nor offered them to her guests. Jessica stayed in the company of her guests throughout the evening.

Judge Ralph Gants, in a concurring opinion, said he would like to see the legislature tackle the issue of over-21 people allowing teens to drink in their homes because as adults, they might have more control over their guests than teens:

I share the concern [in an earlier ruling] about these "practical difficulties" where an underage host, without the assistance of his or her parents, attempts to remove an underage guest who brought alcohol to a party in the host's home. But I am not yet convinced that these practical difficulties are the same if the underage host's parents are present or if the host himself or herself is twenty-one years of age or older. And I am not yet convinced that these practical difficulties are the same now as they were when the Ulwick case was decided because, nine years after the Ulwick decision, the Legislature specifically made the conduct at issue a crime.

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    Comments

    No need to secede

    The highway money is a curse anyhow. Look at what it's made us do to ourselves. We sliced up Boston and bulldozed neighborhoods, just because of the "free money" offered up by the Feds.

    We'd be better off relying on tolls for highways and telling the FHWA to go take a hike. Just say No to Road Socialism.

    Here's another radical idea

    Make the driving age 18.

    Better yet, start holding adults responsible for their own behavior - adulthood beginning at 18 mind you.

    What happened was sad, but predictable - but the fact that they went to a house to do what many just go do in the woods doesn't make it the fault of the hapless 15 year old who was probably afraid that if she called the cops and had them removed, she too would be arrested.

    Seriously...

    Voting age- 18
    Driving age- 18
    Age when able to serve in the military- 18
    Legal drinking age- 18

    If you consider an 18 year old to be an adult and able to die in a combat zone, they should be able to have a beer.

    Mind Boggling

    19 year old brings booze to a house, consumes booze, and drives off, injuring self and passenger.

    House has a younger teen at home, no adults.

    Parents of passenger try to blame non-adult via parents for not being "responsible" - even though said non-adult volunteered to drive their child home. Somehow, the 19 year old who bought alcohol and drank it and drove and their daughter who rode with him are not responsible?

    I wonder: where the hell did they think their 16 year old was at the time? Or did they care that she was off with an (apparently abusive) drunk person three years her senior?

    Can you send us a postcard

    From whatever planet you're on?

    When I was 16 and 17, my job took place at a radio station in the suburbs at 2 AM, 7 miles from my house. And I grew up in Burlington, Vermont.

    -Bus service did not exist
    -Walking was clearly out of the question
    -I did cycle before I had a driver's license, as I took the job when I was 15.

    My father would sometimes wake up and give me a ride on the coldest and snowiest of winter nights, but he volunteered. I would have never asked for a ride. I had a lot of independence for somebody that age.

    This isn't Burlington VT

    Sorry, but the planet I'm on with my non-driving teenagers is doing very well, thank you. Teens aren't even eligible for a permit in MA until age 16, anyway, and can't get a license without instruction until 17 anyway.

    In NYC, the limit is 18 already.

    What planet are you on that all families can afford $200 a month PER TEENAGER for a one car family to have a teen drive? With two teens, that's $4800 PER YEAR. My 15 and 16 year old sons get around fine by MBTA, on foot, on bike, and by asking for rides when those aren't working for them. The older one doesn't even want to drive yet - because we can afford it, the insurance money is going into a bank account until he does. Other families in our area can't afford that, so they just don't let their kids drive until they are a bit older.

    I got my permit at 15, license at 16 - in a different state, in a place with very limited public transit, at a time when the insurance was about $200 a YEAR. That isn't the current reality.

    Maturity>experience

    The gain in brain maturity with age is what makes teens safer on the road, and less likely to kill themselves and others when they are "great drivers" at excessive speeds and with excessive distractions.

    That gain in brain maturity is a much greater factor than driving experience in why 18 year olds are better drivers than 16 year olds. A novice driver at 18 will generally be as good a driver as an "experienced" 18 year old driver because the risks are due to immaturity, not inexperience.

    Making the drinking age 18? Not the solution, in my book.

    Lowering the drinking age to 18 is not going to solve anything, because an 18-year-old, although no longer an adolescent, is not fully an adult, either, and neither the body or the brain is fully mature enough to handle the consequences of excessive alcohol. Not that this defends what this guy, who was in his early 20's did, and it's sad that a 15-year-old girl was permanently brain-damaged as a result of this man's criminally irresponsible actions and behavior, but lowering the drinking age to 18 would make an already horrific situation worse, imo. The trick for lawmakers is the get. tough on drunk drivers, regardless of their age, get them off the road, and put them behind bars for awhile, as well as suspending/revoking their license if need be.

    what happended to the notion of "furnished"

    My understanding of the MGL 138/34 includes that "furnishing" alcohol is enough to find host guilty. here's most of it. Is this limited to Licensees?

    Section 34. No person shall receive a license or permit under this chapter who is under 21 years of age. Whoever makes a sale or delivery of any alcoholic beverage or alcohol to any person under 21 years of age, either for his own use or for the use of his parent or any other person, or whoever, being a patron of an establishment licensed under section 12 or 15, delivers or procures to be delivered in any public room or area of such establishment if licensed under section 12, 15, 19B, 19C or 19D or in any area of such establishment if licensed under said section 15, 19B, 19C or 19D any such beverages or alcohol to or for use by a person who he knows or has reason to believe is under 21 years of age or whoever procures any such beverage or alcohol for a person under 21 years of age in any establishment licensed under section 12 or procures any such beverage or alcohol for a person under 21 years of age who is not his child, ward or spouse in any establishment licensed under said section 15, 19B, 19C or 19D or whoever furnishes any such beverage or alcohol for a person under 21 years of age shall be punished by a fine of not more than $2,000 or by imprisonment for not more than one year or both. For the purpose of this section the word “furnish” shall mean to knowingly or intentionally supply, give, or provide to or allow a person under 21 years of age except for the children and grandchildren of the person being charged to possess alcoholic beverages on premises or property owned or controlled by the person charged. Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit any person licensed under this chapter from employing any person 18 years of age or older for the direct handling or selling of alcoholic beverages or alcohol.

    Not relevant in this case

    Dunno if that's specifically for liquor licensees, but in any case, this case hinged on the question of whether the party giver supplied the booze the guy drank before smashing into a pole. The court ruled she did not. Had she, they might have ruled differently.