IMPORTANT ILLINOIS APPELLATE COURT RULING ON "SOCIAL HOST LIABILITY"
Interesting opinion recently issued by the Second District of the Illinois Appellate Court. The facts are tragic. In Bell v. Hutsell, Daniel Bell and Ross Trace, both under 21, were invited to a private residence for a party. The party was at the home of Jeffrey and Sara Hutsell, and hosted by their son, Jonathan, an 18 year old high school student. A number of the people at the party were high school kids. Prior to the party, Jonathan’s parents told him that they would be monitoring the party to ensure that no alcholic beverages were consumed. Throughout the evening however, while the parents were present, party attendees consumed alcohol that was brought into the party by the students. No alcohol was provided by the parents. After becoming impaired at the party, Daniel Bell left the party in his car. Ross Trace left with him. Shortly after leaving, Bell struck a tree with his car and he and Trace were killed.
Bell’s mom filed a complaint against Jeffrey and Sara Hutsell. A number of theories were alleged. The primary hurdle Ms. Bell faced was the long-standing precedent in Illinois that “social hosts”[i.e. people who provide alcoholic beverages to friends or neighbors at their homes] cannot be held liable when people who become intoxicated at house parties then do harm to others or themselves. In order to get around the “social host” bar, Bell alleged that the Hutsells had acted negligently after voluntarily undertaking a duty to monitor the activities and prohibit any drinking.
Defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that since the death of Daniel Bell was ultimately alchohol related, and the Hutsells were social hosts, there could be no recovery. The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the complaint. Plaintiff appealed. The Appellate Court noted that “…the instant complaint alleged something different from the direct or indirect giving, selling or delivery of alcohol. It alleged tha the defendants voluntarily undertook the duty to to prevent the consumption of alcohol on the premises and they negligently performed that duty”. The Court went on to note that “…because defendants did not supply the alcohol, store the alcohol, or affirmatively permits its consumption, they were not social hosts.” The Court overruled that portion of the trial court’s order dismissing the voluntary undertaking counts. I anticipate that the defendants will likely bring this case to the Illinois Supreme Court. Until then, trial lawyers will be looking much more closely at the facts when reviewing alcohol-related injury cases.