Adults who allow minors to drink face major liability

This story airs Monday at 6 p.m.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – While it’s been on the books in Indiana since July 2014, many people still aren’t aware of the so-called social host law. Adults who think they’re being safe by letting minors consume alcohol at home, are actually assuming major liability.

“We had a law that made it illegal to provide alcohol to minors, but we did not have a law that pertained to social host, which means now you cannot provide a place for minors to drink,” Lisa Hutcheson, the director of the Indiana Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking, said.

The law states that any adult who knowingly rents or provides property to enable underage drinking will be held liable. It’s a Class B misdemeanor charge for a first offense, a Class A misdemeanor if the person has a prior conviction and a Level 6 felony if there was serious injury or death involved.

“It will save lives. It will show the community that there are a lot of dangers with underage drinking and adults should not host parties on their property and if they do, they will be held accountable,” Lael Hill, the Lead Victim Services Specialist for MADD, said.  “This law went past that loop hole and says no, it’s illegal to drink underage and it’s illegal to drink on your property and if you knowingly host a party where people are drinking underage you are going to be held liable.”

Republican Pete Miller, the former state senator from Brownsburg, helped author the law.

“I think parents think they’re doing the right thing. If I can watch them, I can keep t hem safe, but you’re setting a bad example,” he said. “You are playing Russian roulette. Eventually something bad will happen from that behavior that you are saying is okay to do.”

Now the social host law is being used to charge an Allen County man. Court documents show Rex Moore hosted a graduation party at his property in May 2016. A teenager was killed. Dozens of underage kids were also drinking. Moore is now facing a felony, accused of allowing teenagers to drink on his property.

The dangers of underage drinking also extend well beyond teens drinking and driving. In fact, drinking and driving only accounts for a third of underage drinking deaths, Hill said.

“Taking away the keys doesn’t take away the risks of underage drinking,” Hill said. “Just like you wouldn’t give alcohol to a toddler in a sippy cup, you shouldn’t give alcohol to a 15-year-old because it’s essentially the same thing.”

Monday at 6, 15 Finds Out digs deeper into the social host law and the dangers of underage drinking and why allowing teens to drink could not only land the adults in jail, it can cause irreversible damage to the teen.