A teenage boy drove the wrong way on Route 24 on Halloween night in 2009, striking a car carrying a teenage girl who was killed in the crash.

The 19-year-old driver involved in the motor vehicle accident plead guilty to first-degree manslaughter charges and assault. He was sentenced to two six-years prison terms on assault convictions running concurrently, and a suspended 12-year sentence on the manslaughter charge.

A Kansas City, Missouri woman who held a party in her home admitted serving minors, including the teen driver, alcohol. She also admitted to knowingly letting him drive drunk. The 46-year-old woman has been charged by prosecutors with involuntary manslaughter in the case.

“We’re all responsible for what happens in our own homes, providing alcohol to minors, setting off a chain of events that very well could cost us the death of an innocent person,” said Jackson County prosecutor Jean Roberts Baker in the Kansas City Star.

The woman is charged with involuntary manslaughter, which is a felony, as well as two misdemeanors related to supplying and allowing a minor to drink alcohol on her property.

Missouri Dram Shop Law

Dram shop law typically controls if one can recover for damages caused by a bar or restaurant serving intoxicating liquor to a customer. Dram shop law in Missouri is controlled by Missouri statute 537.053.

The state follows English common law, which assumed no “cause and effect” in the act of providing alcohol to an individual who then causes a death. Section one of the statute states:

1. Since the repeal of the Missouri Dram Shop Act in 1934, it has been and continues to be the policy of this state to follow the common law of England, to prohibit dram shop liability and to follow the common law rule that furnishing alcoholic beverages is not the proximate cause of injuries inflicted by intoxicated persons.

There are two exceptions the common law rule: if a licensed provider serves a person less than twenty-one years of age, or knowingly serves a visibly intoxicated person.

2. Notwithstanding subsection 1 of this section, a cause of action may be brought by or on behalf of any person who has suffered personal injury or death against any person licensed to sell intoxicating liquor by the drink for consumption on the premises when it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the seller knew or should have known that intoxicating liquor was served to a person under the age of twenty-one years or knowingly served intoxicating liquor to a visibly intoxicated person.

However, the statute goes on to again limit the scope of the act, in that if the person killed is the intoxicated person, and they are older than twenty-one years, there is no recovery against the seller of the alcohol.

Social Host Liability

Because Missouri follows English common law, there is no social host liability. In this circumstance, the family of victim could not sue the woman who provided the alcohol for wrongful death, because the woman was not a licensed seller of alcohol.

The Missouri Supreme Court has said, “imposing liability upon social hosts would have ‘a substantial impact on everyday social and family affairs’ and therefore the parameters of any duty imposed on social hosts should be determined by the legislature.”

They went on to further distinguish the difference between commercial vendors (bars and restaurants), by explaining a social host doesn’t realize any monetary gain by furnishing alcoholic beverages to their guests, and reasoned “they likewise have no incentive to encourage excessive consumption.”

The court also noted, “the typical social host lacks the expertise required to evaluate the quantity of alcohol a guest can safely consume.”

And lastly, “commercial vendors are able to insure themselves against the risks of furnishing alcoholic beverages while such protection is not presently available to social hosts.”

Criminal Liability

However, just because there is limited civil liability, one can still have criminal liability. The Jackson County prosecutors are pursuing a charge of involuntary manslaughter against the woman who provided alcohol to the teen.

The Missouri statute 565.024.3 states, “A person commits the crime of involuntary manslaughter in the second degree if he acts with criminal negligence to cause the death of any person.”

A person is criminally negligent “when he fails to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that circumstances exist or a result will follow, and such failure constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care which a reasonable person would exercise in the situation.”

Here the prosecutors will need to show that the woman committed a “gross deviation from the standard of care” by serving a minor alcohol, allowing him to become drunk and then permitting him to drive a motor vehicle.

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