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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