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Court: Cover charge at underage drinking parties creates liability

SAN FRANCISCO -- Party hosts who ask guests to pay a cover charge to defray costs may be held legally responsible if an underage drinker becomes intoxicated and hurts himself or others, the California Supreme Court decided Monday.

In a unanimous ruling, the state high court said a cover charge amounts to a sale of alcohol, and state law creates liability for those who sell alcohol to obviously intoxicated minors.

The decision is most likely to affect student parties, where underage drinking and cover charges are common.

The ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed by the parents of Andrew Ennabe, 19, who attended a party given by another college student and was killed when he was run over by an inebriated underage drinker who was driving away from the gathering.

The student hosted the party at an unoccupied rental home owned by her parents and without their permission. She charged guests she did not know $3 to $5 to enter the gathering and imbibe.

Ennabe's parents are seeking compensation from the parents' homeowners insurance policy.

“We should err on the side of permitting liability, for the possibility of liability may provide a strong deterrent against the provision of alcohol to minors, especially those who are already obviously intoxicated,” Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar wrote for the court.

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