With the Legislature's Permission and the Supreme Court's Consent, Common Law Social Host Liability Returns to Minnesota
67 Pages Posted: 26 Feb 2010
Date Written: 1995
In 1990, the Minnesota Legislature amended the Civil Damage Act to allow for common law tort claims against persons 21 years old or older who knowingly provide alcohol to a person under 21 years of age. The 1990 amendment is unique because the legislature in effect appears to be releasing its stranglehold on liquor liability law, permitting the courts to apply common law negligence principles under the defined circumstances, but without providing any guidelines as to how the common law remedy should be formulated. The interpretive problems the amendment creates will eventually have to be resolved by the courts. The purpose of this Article is to examine those interpretive problems, and proceeds in four parts. Part II provides a backdrop for the examination of common law claims arising out of furnishing or providing alcohol to another and discusses the legislative intent in adopting subdivision 6. Part III analyzes the statutory window the legislature used to open up common law liability. Because common law negligence principles may be imposed only where a person twenty-one years of age or older has knowingly provided or furnished liquor to a person under the age of twenty-one, questions will arise concerning the interpretation of the term “knowingly,” and the meaning of the terms “provided or furnished.” Part IV focuses on the potential constitutional problems that may be created by the 1990 amendment because it permits the imposition of liability against social hosts according to standards that are different from those that apply to commercial vendors of alcohol. More specifically, the issue is whether the split in standards will give rise to an equal protection claim of the same strength that caused the Minnesota Supreme Court in Wegan v. Village of Lexington to hold that the split standards that were the product of its decision in Trail were unconstitutional, or whether the split is the result of a reasoned decision that will withstand a potential constitutional attack. Finally, Part V recaps the analysis of the common law liability and statutory window issue in a brief conclusion.
Keywords: Alcohol Liability Law, Statutory Interpretation, Social Host Liability, Torts, Minnesota Alcohol, Minnesota Civil Damages Act, Negligence
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