It was supposed to be a night of celebration.
A young couple was getting married, and the reception was being held at the home of the bride’s parents. Some last-minute invitations were extended to attend the reception. One of those was an 18-year-old from Raleigh, slated to attend college in the fall.
He and several of his underage friends consumed alcohol at the Raleigh-area party. The plan was for them to either stay overnight or to call a parent for a ride. But the 18-year-old, despite calling his mother for a ride, despite his father on the way and despite protestations from the host to stay, got into his car and drove away.
Investigators say he was driving 89 miles-per-hour when he careened off the road just seven miles from the reception. He slammed into a tree, and did not survive the single-vehicle crash. His blood-alcohol level, they would later learn, was 2.5 times the legal limit of 0.08. His parents, who were out looking for him when they couldn’t find him at the reception, came across a mass of flashing blue and red lights and yellow crime scene tape. He was gone.
Now, the hosts of that reception – a neurologist and his wife – are on trial, facing criminal charges for allowing the teen to drink and not taking further action to stop him from driving. Specifically, they are charged with four counts of aiding and abetting the consumption of alcohol by minors.
Their son, who had invited the teen to the party and was just 19 himself, purchased a fifth of Jack Daniels from a local liquor store, has already pleaded guilty to buying alcohol underage. The clerk who sold it to him was initially charged with a crime, but the district attorney later dropped the charges.
According to news reports, a small group of teenagers shared the liquor with one another. However, they testified they did so on the neighbor’s property, and without knowledge of the parents.
An attorney for the parents characterized the charges as an emotional response to a tragedy, and denied the parents were responsible for what the teens did surreptitiously. Ultimately, a jury will decide.
Meanwhile, there has been no mention at this point of whether the decedent’s parents (including his father, who is a state trooper) will pursue civil lawsuit against the reception hosts or others involved for negligence preceding the drunk driving accident.
The primary theory of negligence upon which they could base their case would be North Carolina’s dram shop law, codified in North Carolina General Statutes section 18B-121. The statute holds that an alcohol vendor may be liable for negligently serving alcohol to a minor under 21, the minor causes a crash while under the influence of the alcohol that was sold and the accident resulting in injury (or death) was proximately caused by the minor’s drunk driving. This would allow litigation against the liquor store.
There may also be the potential for action against the reception hosts via a theory of social host liability. A series of court case decisions has opened this potential, assuming the host served or provided alcohol, host knew or should have known the person being served was intoxicated and the host knew the person would be driving after drinking.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Raleigh trial hinges on underage drinking at wedding, July 28, 2015, By Anne Blythe, Raleigh News & Observer
More Blog Entries:
Report: High-Speed Police Pursuits Perilous to Innocents, Aug. 1, 2015, Charlotte Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer Blog