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Liability for In-Home Underage Drinking Extends to Adults Over 18

Oct 5, 2020 | Written by: Tracy B. Bussel, Esq. |

Are you between the ages of 18 and 21?  If so, you may be liable for underage drinking in your home, regardless of whether or not you own the home.

We all know that the legal age in New Jersey to both purchase and drink alcoholic beverages is 21. We also know that the law considers people to be adults when they turn 18. New Jersey law generally holds a bar or liquor store liable if it sells alcohol to an underage person if that sale leads to someone getting hurt. New Jersey law also holds a “social host” liable in certain circumstances if they serve alcohol to a guest who then gets involved in an accident and injures someone. Now, New Jersey law states that an adult who is under the legal drinking age has a duty to stop other underage adults (those between the ages of 18-21) from drinking in his or her home.

In Estate v. Narleski v. Gomes, the parents of a young adult faced every parents’ worst nightmare when their underage son was killed in a motor vehicle accident. Four young adults, including the young man who was killed, went to a liquor store and illegally purchased alcohol, bringing the alcohol back to 19-year-old Mark Zwierzynski’s home. Zwierzynski permitted his underage adult friends to consume alcoholic beverages. Brandon Narleski, 19 years old, and 20-year-old Nicholas Gomes, left the home severely intoxicated. Shortly afterwards, Gomes lost control of his vehicle and crashed. Narleski died at the scene. Gomes's blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit.

Narleski’s family sued Gomes, who was the driver of the car, and the liquor store which sold the alcohol. The liquor store filed a third-party complaint against the young adult who hosted the drinking in his parents’ home, along with his parents, alleging they were negligent in failing to supervise and enabling the underage adults to consume alcohol in their home.

After reviewing the decisions of the lower courts, the New Jersey Supreme Court established that an adult who is under the legal drinking age may be held civilly liable to a third-party drunk driving victim if that underage adult facilitated the use of alcohol by making his home available as a venue for underage drinking, if the guest causing the crash became visibly intoxicated in the defendant’s home, and if it was reasonably foreseeable that said guest would leave the residence and operate a motor vehicle and cause injury to another.

This ruling makes clear that age does not make one immune from legal responsibility.  People between the ages of 18 and 21 who host underage drinking in their homes (or their parents’ homes) can be held liable for the consequences, even though they cannot legally drink. 

Tracy Bussel


Tracy B. Bussel, Esq., is a partner at Gebhardt & Kiefer, P.C., and practices primarily in the areas of employment law, civil rights litigation, general liability, insurance defense, and the representation of public entities.  Contact Ms. Bussel at 908-735-5161 or via email.


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