By Nicholas Deckmejian
On the evening of April 6, the Colts Neck Municipal Alliance presented “Parents Who Host Lose The Most” to an audience of community parents. A panel of local experts was there to provide insight on the liabilities of hosting underage drinking. Sgt. Kristian Devito and Sgt. Brian Caswell represented the Colts Neck Police Department and led the discussion, along with Farmers Insurance agent John Maguire and attorney Russell Macnow.
Sgt. DeVito went through the reasons why underage drinking is dangerous, including the infamous consequences of driving drunk into an innocent passerby, but also explaining how exposing an underdeveloped brain to alcohol can cause immediate bad decisions, like fights or sexual assault, and long-term effects, like addiction or additional drug use. He acknowledged the fact that most parents are well aware that letting their teens go out to drink at high-risk social events could lead to a variety of life-altering situations, and with all these dangers in the unsupervised world, some parents believe it is safer to host the underage drinking themselves. This is the exact notion the panel aimed to dispel.
Some parents may think that if the kids are drinking under their roof, they have the situation under control, yet Sgt. DeVito continued his presentation to illustrate how there is no safety in providing a space for teens to drink. He explained how easy it can be for kids to sneak in water bottles filled with alcohol, or how the houses in the area are so large that dozens of kids can sneak in and out without notice. He continued to explain how fast parties can get out of control, and how a get-together of a few friends can rapidly turn into an alcohol-infused crowd larger than most wedding receptions. With social media being so prevalent, notice of parties can spread to hundreds of kids in an instant, leaving hosts with a house full of uninvited guests and a catalyst for umpteen disasters.
With the help of Sgt. Caswell, the two officers elaborated relevant laws for parents, such as providing alcohol to teens, allowing underage drinking to occur on their property, and being liable for the safety of any drunk teen that they pick up from a party or allow into their homes. Their advice, short of needing to frisk every teenager who walks through the front door, is to establish a stern set of rules prohibiting any underage drinking in their households. If underage drinking is occurring, and it turns into an unmanageable situation, call the police. It looks a lot better being the person calling for help than being the person who’s called out by neighbors for disturbances.
Mr. Maguire elaborated on the repercussions from an insurance standpoint. He reiterated the inherit risks in hosting underage drinking and the mess of liabilities that fall on the parents. He suggested that any homeowner who is willing to provide an arena for drunk teens should have as much insurance as they can get, because the potential for being sued is high and not having ample insurance to back up bad life choices can turn a horrible situation into a financially crippling one. And while he encouraged folks to have complete understanding of what their policies cover, his primary piece of advice was to not even think about having the party in the first place.
Mr. Macnow gave further insight about the legal backlash of hosting underage drinking. He explained what Social Host Liability is and what type of responsibilities parents have when they provide alcohol. He explained how homeowners can be protected from being sued if a drunk adult left their house and got into an accident, but nothing can protect them if the driver is underage. His focal piece of advice echoed the rest of the panel’s: the best way to avoid adverse consequences is to never host underage drinking at all.
For more information on the Colts Neck Alliance, community events, or how to get involved, contact Anita Dedalis, acting coordinator, at (732) 308-4505 or visit www.colts-neck.nj.us/local/cnalliance/index.htm.