Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

03/30/95 ROBERT CHARLES v. ALAN SEIGFRIED

March 30, 1995

ROBERT CHARLES, ADM'R OF THE ESTATE OF LYNN SUE CHARLES, DECEASED, APPELLEE,
v.
ALAN SEIGFRIED, APPELLANT. -- PAULA L. BZDEK, A MINOR, BY HER FATHER AND NEXT FRIEND, ROBERT J. BZDEK, APPELLEE, V. SUSAN M. TOWNSLEY ET AL., APPELLANTS.



Chief Justice Bilandic delivered the opinion of the court: Justice McMORROW, dissenting: Justice Harrison joins in this dissent.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bilandic

CHIEF JUSTICE BILANDIC delivered the opinion of the court:

In these two, consolidated appeals, the plaintiffs ask this court to recognize a cause of action against social hosts for serving alcoholic beverages to minors who are subsequently injured. Both appeals arise from a circuit court dismissal of the plaintiff's complaint. The circuit courts held that, according to long-established precedent, social host liability does not exist in Illinois. For the reasons stated below, we now confirm this precedent and decline to give birth to any form of social host liability.

FACTS

In cause number 76617, the plaintiff, Robert Charles, as administrator of the estate of Lynn Sue Charles, brought an action against the defendant, Alan Seigfried, in the circuit court of Hancock County. Lynn Sue Charles was killed in an automobile accident in the early morning hours of February 16, 1991. Charles sought recovery for her death.

Charles' second-amended complaint alleged that Seigfried hosted a social gathering at his rural home on the evening of February 15, 1991. Lynn Sue, 16 years of age, attended the party. The complaint charged that Seigfried served alcoholic beverages to Lynn Sue and to other underage persons at the party. Lynn Sue became intoxicated. She then departed Seigfried's home by driving her own automobile. Lynn Sue had a blood-alcohol content of 0.299 at the time of her death.

Charles' second-amended complaint was premised on theories of social host liability. Count I claimed that Seigfried breached his common law duty of reasonable care. Count II alleged that a civil action arose from Seigfried's violation of section 6-16(c) of the Liquor Control Act of 1934 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 43, par. 131(c) (now 235 ILCS 5/6-16(c) (West 1992))). The circuit court dismissed the complaint under section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 1992)) for failure to state a cause of action. The appellate court reversed the dismissal and created a cause of action against social hosts who knowingly serve alcoholic beverages to minors. (251 Ill. App. 3d 1059.) In doing so, the appellate court acknowledged that it was departing from precedent (251 Ill. App. 3d at 1063.) We allowed Seigfried's petition for leave to appeal (145 Ill. 2d R. 315(a)).

In cause number 77438, the plaintiff, Paula L. Bzdek, a minor, by her father and next friend, Robert J. Bzdek, filed suit against the defendants, Susan M. Townsley and Nicki Townsley, in the circuit court of Lake County. Bzdek was injured in an accident while she was a passenger in a motor vehicle driven by David Duff, 18 years of age. Bzdek sought recovery for permanent injuries that she sustained.

Bzdek's second-amended complaint alleged that, on or about September 15, 1990, the Townsleys hosted a social gathering at their home in Wildwood, Illinois. Bzdek, age 15, attended the party, as did Duff. The complaint charged that the Townsleys furnished alcoholic beverages to Bzdek, Duff, and to several other underage persons. Bzdek and Duff became intoxicated. Bzdek left the Townsley home in the vehicle driven by Duff while he was still drunk. According to the complaint, Bzdek allowed herself to be transported by Duff due to her own inebriation. Duff lost control of the vehicle and crashed into oncoming traffic.

Both counts of Bzdek's second-amended complaint were based on theories of social host liability. Count I charged that the Townsleys negligently served intoxicants to Duff, a driver under the legal drinking age of 21. Count II alleged that they negligently served alcoholic beverages to Bzdek, a minor whose own drunkenness caused her to allow herself to be a passenger in Duff's vehicle. The circuit court dismissed the complaint under section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 1992)) for failure to state a cause of action. The appellate court reversed, finding that social hosts can be held liable under the facts alleged in Bzdek's complaint. (262 Ill. App. 3d 238.) The appellate court extended social host liability beyond the negligent service of alcoholic beverages to minors. (262 Ill. App. 3d at 244-46.) It reasoned that, where social hosts knowingly serve intoxicants to minors and to persons under the legal drinking age of 21, they can be held liable for injuries caused by the persons under age 21. (262 Ill. App. 3d at 244-46.) We allowed the Townsleys' petition for leave to appeal (145 Ill. 2d R. 315(a)).

ANALYSIS

The standard of review on appeal from a motion to dismiss a complaint under section 2-615 is whether the complaint alleges sufficient facts which, if proved, would entitle the plaintiff to relief. Urbaitis v. Commonwealth Edison (1991), 143 Ill. 2d 458, 475, 159 Ill. Dec. 50, 575 N.E.2d 548.

For over one century, this court has spoken with a single voice to the effect that no social host liability exists in Illinois. The discussion below demonstrates that it has been, and continues to be, well-established law that Illinois has no common law cause of action for injuries arising out of the sale or gift of alcoholic beverages; that the legislature has preempted the field of alcohol-related liability; and that any change in the law governing alcohol-related liability should be made by the General Assembly, or not at all.

I

THE HISTORY OF ALCOHOL-RELATED LIABILITY

A. The Common Law Rule and the Dramshop Act

The historic common law rule, adhered to in this State, is that there is no cause of action for injuries arising out of the sale or gift of alcoholic beverages. The rationale underlying the rule is that the drinking of the intoxicant, not the furnishing of it, is the proximate cause of the intoxication and the resulting injury. (See Cunningham v. Brown (1961), 22 Ill. 2d 23, 29-30, 174 N.E.2d 153.) As a matter of public policy, the furnishing of alcoholic beverages is considered as too remote to serve as the proximate cause of the injury.

As set forth later in this opinion, our courts have consistently adhered to the rule that there is no common law cause of action against any provider of alcoholic beverages for injuries arising out of the sale or gift of such beverages. The Illinois legislature, however, created a limited statutory cause of action when it enacted the original Dramshop Act of 1872 in response to a great wave of temperance reform that swept the nation. ( Cunningham, 22 Ill. 2d at 27, quoting 4 Bogart & Thompson, A Centennial History of Illinois 42-44 (1920).) The original act imposed liability upon dramshops for selling or giving intoxicating liquors to persons who subsequently injure third parties. (Laws of 1871-72, at 552-56.) The present act, titled the Liquor Control Act of 1934 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 43, par. 93.9 et seq. (now 235 ILCS 5/1-1 et seq. (West 1992))) grants a similar cause of action to injured third parties (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 43, par. 135 (now 235 ILCS 5/6-21 (West 1992))). (Section 6-21 is commonly known as the Dramshop Act and will hereinafter be referred to as such.) The Dramshop Act has never imposed liability predicated on negligence or fault; rather, it imposes a form of "no-fault" liability. ( Nelson v. Araiza (1978), 69 Ill. 2d 534, 538-39, 14 Ill. Dec. 441, 372 N.E.2d 637.) This court has interpreted the Dramshop Act as not imposing liability upon social hosts.

Cruse v. Aden (1889), 127 Ill. 231, 20 N.E. 73, is the seminal decision regarding both the common law rule and the absence of social host liability under the Dramshop Act. There, a wife filed suit against a friend of her husband. The friend had given her husband two drinks of intoxicating liquor while he was a guest at the friend's home. The husband, upon returning home on horseback, was thrown from the horse and died.

The wife argued that a common law right of action existed before the Dramshop Act of 1872 was enacted, and that the Dramshop Act simply saved and even enlarged the remedies already available. The Cruse court expressly rejected these notions, stating:

"It was not a tort, at common law, to either sell or give intoxicating liquor to 'a strong and able-bodied man,' and it can be said safely, that it is not anywhere laid down in the books that such act was ever held, at common law, to be culpable negligence, that would impose legal liability for damages upon the vendor or donor of such liquor. The present suit can in no sense be regarded as an action of tort at common law." Cruse, 127 Ill. at 234.

The Cruse court therefore concluded that any cause of action the wife had was purely statutory, wholly dependent upon the proper construction of the Dramshop Act. ( Cruse, 127 Ill. at 234.) The court held that the Dramshop Act only created a cause of action against those engaged in the liquor trade. ( Cruse, 127 Ill. at 239.) No cause of action was "intended to be given against a person who, in his own house, or elsewhere, gives a glass of intoxicating liquor to a friend as a mere act of courtesy and politeness." ( Cruse, 127 Ill. at 239.) Cruse therefore laid down the rule that no social host liability exists under the common law or the Dramshop Act.

B. Legislative Preemption

Many years later, in Howlett v. Doglio (1949), 402 Ill. 311, 83 N.E.2d 708, this court reaffirmed its holdings in Cruse. The Howlett court further explained that the liability imposed under the Dramshop Act "is of statutory origin, and is expressly and exclusively defined" therein. Howlett, 402 Ill. at 318.

Cunningham v. Brown (1961), 22 Ill. 2d 23, 174 N.E.2d 153, then firmly established the rule of law that, in Illinois, the General Assembly has preempted the entire field of alcohol-related liability through its passage and continual amendment of the Dramshop Act. There, the plaintiff's filed suit against tavern operators who had served intoxicants to their husband and father, who thereafter became despondent and took his own life. The plaintiffs argued that, in addition to a claim under the Dramshop Act, the following remedies were available to them: (1) a civil action for a violation of a section of the Liquor Control Act that prohibited the sale, gift or delivery of alcoholic liquor "'to any intoxicated person or to any person known * * * to be an habitual drunkard, spendthrift, insane, mentally ill, mentally deficient or in need of mental treatment'" ( Cunningham, 22 Ill. 2d at 24, quoting Ill. Rev. Stat. 1957, ch. 43, par. 131); and (2) a common law action against tavern operators who knowingly supply intoxicating liquor to a consumer who has no volition with regard to consuming the intoxicant. The plaintiffs' contention was that this court should recognize a new cause of action where a tavern operator sells liquor to an already intoxicated or insane person. In these instances, the plaintiffs maintained, the incapacity of the consumer to choose is known to the vendor and, therefore, the sale of the liquor in reality becomes the proximate cause of the intoxication. The Cunningham court rejected all the plaintiffs' arguments and refused to create any cause of action beyond those explicitly provided for in the Dramshop Act. ( Cunningham, 22 Ill. 2d at 30-31.) It held that the Dramshop Act provides the exclusive remedy against tavern owners and operators for alcohol-induced injuries. Cunningham, 22 Ill. 2d at 30-31.

Since Cunningham, this court has frequently reiterated the rule that a dramshop cause of action is sui generis and exclusive. ( Hopkins v. Powers (1986), 113 Ill. 2d 206, 211, 100 Ill. Dec. 579, 497 N.E.2d 757; Wimmer v. Koenigseder (1985), 108 Ill. 2d 435, 440-44, 92 Ill. Dec. 233, 484 N.E.2d 1088; Demchuk v. Duplancich (1982), 92 Ill. 2d 1, 5, 64 Ill. Dec. 560, 440 N.E.2d 112; Graham v. General U.S. Grant Post No. 2665 (1969), 43 Ill. 2d 1, 7.) Accordingly, this court has consistently refused to recognize any cause of action for alcohol-related liability beyond those explicitly provided for in the Dramshop Act. ( Wimmer, 108 Ill. 2d at 440-44; Graham, 43 Ill. 2d at 8; Knierim v. Izzo (1961), 22 Ill. 2d 73, 76-77, 79, 174 N.E.2d 157; Cunningham, 22 Ill. 2d 23, 174 N.E.2d 153; Cruse, 127 Ill. 231, 20 N.E. 73.) In doing so, this court has rejected all theories of liability advanced by plaintiffs, including those based upon the Dramshop Act itself, upon common law negligence, or upon certain prohibited sales and activities within the Liquor Control Act of 1934. Wimmer, 108 Ill. 2d 435, 92 Ill. Dec. 233, 484 N.E.2d 1088 (rejecting theories based upon the common law and the Dramshop Act); Graham, 43 Ill. 2d 1, 248 N.E.2d 657 (rejecting theories based upon the Dramshop Act and the common law); Knierim, 22 Ill. 2d 73, 174 N.E.2d 157 (rejecting theories based upon certain prohibited sales in the Liquor Control Act and the common law); Cunningham, 22 Ill. 2d 23, 174 N.E.2d 153 (same); Cruse, 127 Ill. 231, 20 N.E. 73 (rejecting theories based upon the common law and the Dramshop Act).

As a result, few rules of law are as clear as that no liability for the sale or gift of alcoholic beverages exists in Illinois outside of the Dramshop Act. Our appellate court has generally adhered to this fundamental rule and has declined to create a new cause of action, regardless of whether the case involved adults, underage persons, or minors; liquor vendors or social hosts. See, e.g., Estate of Ritchie v. Farrell (1991), 213 Ill. App. 3d 846, 157 Ill. Dec. 298, 572 N.E.2d 367 (social host furnished alcohol to a minor); Goodknight v. Piraino (1990), 197 Ill. App. 3d 319, 143 Ill. Dec. 208, 554 N.E.2d 1 (vendor allowed alcohol to be furnished to an underage person); Flory v. Weaver (1990), 196 Ill. App. 3d 149, 142 Ill. Dec. 755, 553 N.E.2d 105 (social host furnished alcohol to minors); Martin v. Palazzolo Produce Co. (1986), 146 Ill. App. 3d 1084, 100 Ill. Dec. 703, 497 N.E.2d 881 (social host furnished alcohol to a minor); Zamiar v. Linderman (1985), 132 Ill. App. 3d 886, 88 Ill. Dec. 219, 478 N.E.2d 534 (social host furnished alcohol to a minor); Heldt v. Brei (1983), 118 Ill. App. 3d 798, 74 Ill. Dec. 413, 455 N.E.2d 842 (social hosts permitted son to serve alcohol to friends); Thompson v. Trickle (1983), 114 Ill. App. 3d 930, 70 Ill. Dec. 563, 449 N.E.2d 910 (social host furnished alcohol to an adult); Ruth v. Benvenutti (1983), 114 Ill. App. 3d 404, 70 Ill. Dec. 335, 449 N.E.2d 209 (vendor sold alcohol to a minor); Coulter v. Swearingen (1983), 113 Ill. App. 3d 650, 69 Ill. Dec. 344, 447 N.E.2d 561 (minor social host furnished alcohol to a minor); Gora v. 7-11 Food Stores (1982), 109 Ill. App. 3d 109, 64 Ill. Dec. 727, 440 N.E.2d 279 (vendor sold alcohol to a minor); Lowe v. Rubin (1981), 98 Ill. App. 3d 496, 53 Ill. Dec. 919, 424 N.E.2d 710 (social host furnished alcohol to a minor); Miller v. Moran (1981), 96 Ill. App. 3d 596, 52 Ill. Dec. 183, 421 N.E.2d 1046 (social hosts furnished alcohol to an adult); Camille v. Berry Fertilizers, Inc. (1975), 30 Ill. App. 3d 1050, 334 N.E.2d 205 (social host furnished alcohol to an adult); Shepherd v. Marsaglia (1961), 31 Ill. App. 2d 379, 176 N.E.2d 473 (vendors sold alcohol to an underage person); see also Fitzpatrick v. Carde Lounge, Ltd. (1992), 234 Ill. App. 3d 875, 176 Ill. Dec. 712, 602 N.E.2d 19 (vendors sold alcohol to a minor). But see Cravens v. Inman (1991), 223 Ill. App. 3d 1059, 166 Ill. Dec. 409, 586 N.E.2d 367; Colligan v. Cousar (1963), 38 Ill. App. 2d 392, 187 N.E.2d 292 (discovering a common law cause of action for furnishing liquor to an intoxicated person), overruled by Wimmer v. Koenigseder (1985), 108 Ill. 2d 435, 442, 92 Ill. Dec. 233, 484 N.E.2d 1088.

The plaintiffs in the present appeal now ask us to recognize a common law cause of action where a social host serves alcoholic beverages to a minor. In this situation, the plaintiffs maintain, the incapacity of the minor to perceive and protect oneself from the harm associated with consuming intoxicants is known to the social host. Therefore, the furnishing of the liquor is the proximate cause of the intoxication and the injury. The premise of their argument is that minors are a protected class, as the law recognizes their incapability to understand the consequences of consuming alcoholic beverages by forbidding it.

The plaintiffs' argument fails. All binding precedent on the subject teaches us that the General Assembly has preempted the entire field of alcohol-related liability through its passage and continual amendment of the Dramshop Act. ( Hopkins, 113 Ill. 2d 206; Wimmer, 108 Ill. 2d 435, 92 Ill. Dec. 233, 484 N.E.2d 1088; Demchuk, 92 Ill. 2d 1, 64 Ill. Dec. 560, 440 N.E.2d 112; Graham, 43 Ill. 2d 1, 248 N.E.2d 657; Cunningham, 22 Ill. 2d 23, 174 N.E.2d 153; Howlett, 402 Ill. 311, 83 N.E.2d 708; Cruse, 127 Ill. 231, 20 N.E. 73.) We are persuaded that the prior decisions of this court are correct and control the appeal sub judice. Legislative preemption in the field of alcohol-related liability extends to social hosts who provide alcoholic beverages to another person, whether that person be an adult, an underage person, or a minor. Therefore, the plaintiffs have no cause of action against their social hosts, as the Dramshop Act does not provide for one.

II

STARE DECISIS

Stare decisis is a policy of the courts to stand by precedent and leave settled points of law undisturbed. Decisions that have been established for a long period of years should, in the orderly administration of justice, be deemed controlling unless and until the General Assembly provides otherwise. Kinsey Distilling Sales Co. v. Foremost Liquor Stores, Inc. (1958), 15 Ill. 2d 182, 188, 154 N.E.2d 290.

As discussed above, for over one century, this court has construed the Dramshop Act as inapplicable to a social host situation, and as providing the exclusive remedy for injuries resulting from the sale or gift of alcoholic beverages. The General Assembly has amended the Dramshop Act more than one dozen times over the years (see 235 ILCS Ann. 5/6-21, Historical & Statutory Notes, at 294-96 (West 1993)), but has never altered these interpretations. From this history it is apparent that the legislature has acquiesced in the court's construction of the statute, which has by now become part of the fabric of the Dramshop Act. ( Miller v. Lockett (1983), 98 Ill. 2d 478, 483; see Froud v. Celotex Corp. (1983), 98 Ill. 2d 324, 336, 74 Ill. Dec. 629, 456 N.E.2d 131 (holding that considerations of stare decisis weigh more heavily where a prior judicial construction of a statute is involved).) A departure from the rules of preemption and against social host liability would now amount to an amendment of the statute itself. ( Froud, 98 Ill. 2d at 336.) Consequently, we decline the plaintiffs' invitation to depart from all prior precedent in favor of their position. We do not today hold that we are powerless to change the law. After careful and considered judgment, we hold only that adhering to stare decisis is the wisest course of action for reasons explained in this opinion.

III

PUBLIC POLICY AND JUDICIAL RESTRAINT

Ultimately, the question of whether to depart from precedent in order to recognize a negligence cause of action against social hosts who serve alcoholic beverages to minors is a public policy determination. (See W. Keeton, Prosser & Keeton on Torts ยง 41, at 264 (5th ed. 1984) (explaining that proximate cause is merely the boundary set to liability for the consequences of any act, which is based upon "some social idea of justice or policy").) There are many compelling reasons to defer to the legislature on this policy matter of profound consequence.

The primary expression of Illinois public and social policy should emanate from the legislature. This is especially true regarding issues like the present one, where there is disagreement on whether a new rule is warranted. The members of our General Assembly, elected to their offices by the citizenry of this State, are best able to determine whether a change in the law is desirable and workable.

Any decision to expand civil liability to social hosts should be made only after a thorough analysis of the relevant considerations. The General Assembly, by its very nature, has a superior ability to gather and synthesize data pertinent to the issue. It is free to solicit information and advice from the many public and private organizations that may be impacted. Moreover, it is the only entity with the power to weigh and properly balance the many competing societal, economic, and policy considerations involved. These considerations include such issues as whether sufficient remedies are already available to injured parties through their own insurance and the cause of action they have against the intoxicated driver who caused the accident, the effect on homeowners' and renters' insurance policies and rates, whether the social hosts' liability should be limited, and what standards of conduct should govern social hosts.

This court, on the other hand, is ill-equipped to fashion a law on this subject that would best serve the people of Illinois. We can consider only one case at a time and are constrained by the facts before us. Moreover, if we were to undertake to change the rules concerning alcohol-related liability, the law would be in a confused, disorderly state for many years while the trial courts attempted to predict how this court would eventually resolve these questions.

If this court were to adopt social host liability, then we would also be faced with determining which of the many possible permutations to follow. Should only injured third parties have a cause of action against a social host, or should the intoxicated person have one too? Should an exception be created only for minors? If so, should we treat persons under the legal drinking age of 21 as minors, or only those under the age of 18? Should minor or underage social hosts be liable for serving liquor to their similarly situated friends? Should a social host be held liable only when he or she knows that the intoxicated person will drink and drive, or should the host be held liable for all types of alcohol-induced injuries? What actions must a social host take to avoid liability where an intoxicated guest insists on driving home? Is calling a cab sufficient, or must the police be notified? The flood of injured litigants that would inevitably crowd the Illinois courts would demand answers to these questions and many others. The General Assembly is clearly the entity best able to resolve such issues comprehensively.

Another factor that compels us to exercise judicial restraint is that any common law liability that we create against social hosts would be unlimited. In contrast, the civil liability of liquor vendors under the Dramshop Act is limited to $30,000 for each compensable injury, or $40,000 for the loss of support. (235 ILCS 5/6-21(a) (West 1992).) To expose a social host to a much greater liability than the profiting liquor vendor is incomprehensible to us. Shall we force the people of Illinois to obtain liquor licenses in order to insulate themselves from unlimited liability for serving drinks in their home? We think not.

The plaintiffs argue that we must judicially recognize social host liability where an adult furnishes alcoholic beverages to a minor in keeping with a national trend. The dissent agrees with the plaintiffs, claiming that 26 States have adopted the view which it endorses. (See slip op. at 28 and Appendix to Dissent.) An analysis of the law of other jurisdictions reveals otherwise. First, neither Louisiana nor Delaware has adopted social host liability, as the dissent claims. The cited Louisiana case stands only for the proposition that a minor social host owes no duty to refrain from serving beer to another minor. (See Appendix to Dissent, citation for Louisiana.) The holding in the cited Delaware case was specifically limited to a safe workplace rationale (see Appendix to Dissent, citation for Delaware), and subsequent decisions suggest that social host liability will not be adopted in Delaware ( McCall v. Villa Pizza Inc. (Del. 1994), 636 A.2d 912; Oakes v. Megaw (Del. 1989), 565 A.2d 914; Samson v. Smith (Del. 1989), 560 A.2d 1024). Of much greater significance, however, we note that six States referred to in the dissent's appendix have allowed only third parties to recover from social hosts for injuries caused by minor drunk drivers (see Appendix to Dissent, citations for Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, and Utah), unlike the dissent, which would allow the intoxicated minors themselves to recover (see slip op. at 20). There are other differences. Three States limit the amount of damages that can be recovered from a social host to $250,000 or less (see Appendix to Dissent, citations for Colorado, Maine, and Utah), unlike the dissent which would allow unlimited recovery. Further, the dissent insists that this court must adopt social host liability where adults serve alcoholic beverages to minors, yet in four States, it was the legislature, and not the courts, that first endorsed the concept. (See Appendix to Dissent, citations for Alabama, Maine, Utah, and New York.) In fact, the Alabama Supreme Court specifically held that there is no common law cause of action in cases such as this ( Martin v. Watts (Ala. 1987), 508 So. 2d 1136, 1141); this holding is in direct conflict with the dissent's position. We further note that the very existence of a dramshop act in a jurisdiction will impact the law of that State. (See Martin, 508 So. 2d at 1168-69 (Houston, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) (noting that the very existence of a dramshop act constitutes a substantial argument against judicial adoption of social host liability).) Given all of the foregoing, we are unpersuaded by this new-trend argument. We further note that an examination of today's headlines shows that the current trend in the Illinois General Assembly and the United States Congress is not towards expanding and creating causes of action, but towards limiting and eliminating them. See, e.g., Pallasch, To Cap or Not to Cap: The Tort Battle of '95, Chicago Lawyer 1 (March 1995) (documenting trends).

In any event, we are of the view that our decision should be grounded upon the law of Illinois rather than upon contradictory trends elsewhere. Illinois' long history of legislative preemption of all alcohol-related liability makes it especially appropriate for us to defer to the legislature once again. In so deferring to legislative judgment on this issue of whether to impose social host liability upon adults who serve alcoholic beverages to minors, we find that we are not alone. Bankston v. Brennan (Fla. 1987), 507 So. 2d 1385; Winters v. Silver Fox Bar (1990), 71 Haw. 524, 797 P.2d 51; Johnston v. KFC National Management Co. (1990), 71 Haw. 229, 788 P.2d 159; Ling v. Jan's Liquors (1985), 237 Kan. 629, 703 P.2d 731; Hebb v. Walker (1988), 73 Md. App. 655, 536 A.2d 113; see also Pelzek v. American Legion (1990), 236 Neb. 608, 463 N.W.2d 321; Hinegardner v. Marcor Resorts (1992), 108 Nev. 1091, 1094-95, 844 P.2d 800, 803; Bradley, Social Host Liability in Illinois: An Exception for Minors?, 81 Ill. B.J. 362, 366 (1993) (concluding that this court should defer to the legislature on whether to impose social host liability for serving alcoholic beverages to minors).

IV

LEGISLATIVE ACTION

We note that the General Assembly has responded well to the problem of underage drunk driving by enacting various statutory provisions aimed to stop it. The legislature's actions have been effective. Statistics show that the total number of alcohol-related crash fatalities in Illinois has dramatically declined since 1982. (DUI Prevention Unit, Office of the Secretary of State (September 1994 pamphlet) (reporting a 35% decrease in the total number of alcohol-related crash fatalities from 1982 to 1993).) There has also been a substantial decrease in the percentage of Illinois underage drivers who are killed as a result of their own alcohol consumption. (DUI Prevention Unit, Office of the Secretary of State (October 1994 pamphlet) (reporting that, in 1993, 32% of tested underage drivers who had been killed had been drinking at the time of their death, down from 48% in 1990).) Moreover, Illinois has been rated first out of all 50 states for its efforts to curb drunk driving by two groups, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. Dvorak, Illinois' DUI Effort Rated No. 1, Chic. Trib., November 29, 1993.

Despite its successes, the General Assembly continues to lead vigorously the fight against underage drunk driving. Its legislation appropriately targets both the adults who provide alcoholic beverages to underage persons and the underage persons themselves. For example, the General Assembly recently stiffened the criminal penalties for adults who illegally provide alcoholic beverages to underage persons. (Pub. Act 88-613, eff. January 1, 1995 (amending 235 ILCS 5/6-16 (West 1992)).) It also recently enacted a "zero-tolerance" law that provides for the automatic suspension of the driving privileges of underage persons who are found operating a motor vehicle with any alcohol in their system. (Pub. Act 88--588, eff. January 1, 1995 (adding 625 ILCS 5/11-501.8).) The impact of these new laws remains to be seen.

The plaintiffs maintain that we should create a civil cause of action where the social host has violated section 6-16(c) of the Liquor Control Act, which provides:

"(c) Any person shall be guilty of a petty offense where he or she knowingly permits a gathering at a residence which he or she occupies of two or more persons where any one or more of the persons is under 18 years of age and the following factors also apply:

(1) the person occupying the residence knows that any such person under the age of 18 is in possession of or is consuming any alcoholic beverage; and

(2) the possession or consumption of the alcohol by the person under 18 is not otherwise permitted by this Act; and

(3) the person occupying the residence knows that the person under the age of 18 leaves the residence in an intoxicated condition." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 43, par. 131(c) (now 235 ILCS 5/6-16(c) (West 1992)).)

The plaintiffs argue that to recognize civil liability against social hosts in these situations would be consistent with legislative intent. We disagree.

Since 1986, the General Assembly has considered imposing various forms of social host liability upon adults who furnish alcohol to underage persons at least six times. In all instances, the attempt to create the new cause of action was rejected. 88th Ill. Gen. Assem., Senate Bill 1328, 1994 Sess.; 88th Ill. Gen. Assem., House Bill 3095, 1994 Sess.; 87th Ill. Gen. Assem., House Bill 2815, 1992 Sess.; 86th Ill. Gen. Assem., House Bill 319, 1989 Sess.; 85th Ill. Gen. Assem., House Bill 2707, 1988 Sess.; 84th Ill. Gen. Assem., House Bill 738, 1985 & 1986 Sessions.

Senate Bill 1328 represents the legislature's most recent opportunity to consider the issue. One portion of the bill, as originally proposed, would have added a new section 6-21.1 to the Liquor Control Act as follows:

"Sec. 6-21.1. Liability of persons supplying liquor to persons under 21. A person who is injured, in person or property, by an intoxicated person under the age of 21 has a right of action in his or her own name, severally or jointly, for damages ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.