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Underage Drinking and Social Host Liability in Ohio

It's football season, and your house is the "go-to" spot for friends and family to gather and watch the Buckeyes battle their way to, hopefully, the National Championships. Since football is a family affair in your household, you always have a hearty selection of beverages available to your guests -- beer and cocktails for the adults, and non-alcoholic beverages for the kids. But did you know you may be held legally responsible if the kids get into a car accident after sneaking a few beers?

What Is "Social Host Liability"?

In order to address issues of underage drinking and drunk driving, Ohio has enacted a number of laws to address the problems associated with alcohol-related negligence. Some of the more strict of these laws include those that make social hosts responsible in civil and criminal courts. These are referred to as "social host liability" laws.

Under these laws, a "social host" (an individual or business who serves alcohol in a social setting) is not only prohibited from providing alcohol to people under the age of 21, but he or she may also be responsible if these minors kill or injure someone while intoxicated from alcohol served by the social host. Note that a host is only liable to a third party when the injury is caused by a guest under 21 years old.

What Are the Laws Regarding Underage Drinking?

In Ohio, you may be arrested for:

  • Drinking, buying, or possessing an alcoholic beverage (even in a closed container) while under 21 years old;
  • Selling or providing an alcoholic beverage to someone under 21 years old; and
  • Using a fake ID to buy, or otherwise obtain, alcoholic beverages.

You may be issued a citation for:

  • Possessing an open container of an alcoholic beverage on public property -- no matter your age. Note that "public property" in this context is generally defined broadly. Therefore, areas that are extremely visible, easily accessible, and open to the public -- such as porches, stoops, front lawns, etc. -- may qualify as "public" spaces.

Statute: Ohio Revised Code §4301.69(B)

What If I Give My Child Permission to Drink Under My Supervision?

There are important exceptions to the laws discussed above. Under Ohio law, children under the age of 21 may drink alcoholic beverages while under the supervision of their parents. This means one parent (or legal guardian) must give consent and be physically present while the child consumes alcohol. Therefore, in addition to permitting supervised drinking in a private residence, Ohio law also allows parents to order alcoholic beverages for children at restaurants or bars -- as long as the parents remain with the children while the drinks are consumed. Though it is legal for businesses to sell alcohol to parents (knowing the parents will give the drinks to their children), many restaurants choose to limit their liability by refusing to sell alcohol intended for underage children or limiting the hours that minors may be present on the premises.

Note that your physical presence as a parent or guardian is a strict requirement. You cannot "send" your child to a bar or private party with written or oral permission to drink. It is also not enough that other parents supervise your child while he or she drinks -- you, as your child's parent, must actually be there while alcohol is consumed.

So remember, when you have people over for the big game, you should monitor who has access to the beer. Yes, you can let your kids have a beer under your supervision. But if their friends sneak a few drinks, and their parents are not there to give consent, you may be responsible not only for permitting underage drinking, but also for any trouble or mischief they might get into later on in the night while under the influence.

Additional Information

If you'd like to read more on underage drinking, check out Ohio's liquor control laws or a summary of the drinking age law put out by the Ohio Department of Public safety.

Talk to an Attorney to Better Understand Underage Drinking and Social Liability in Ohio

As you can see, there are some exceptions to underage drinking restrictions. If you or your child have encountered any issues related to underage drinking, you may want to contact a criminal defense lawyer in the Ohio area who knows the local laws and can assist you in preparing your best possible defense.

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