DUI Crash Victim Sues Driver’s Parents: “He Got His Alcohol At Home!”

dui-crash-victim-family-sues-parents-of-teen-driverDo parents bear any responsibility when an underage driver drinks and kills someone? That question is at the heart of a lawsuit just filed in Michigan.

Travis Cunningham, now 20, was 19 when he crashed on U.S. 23, killing Curt Orlowski and Dakota Gonzales. Now Orlowski’s parents are suing Cunningham and his parents. The suit charges that the parents furnished Cunningham with the alcohol that got him drunk and led to the DUI crash.

Cunningham was arrested with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .22, more than two and a half times the legal limit for drunkenness.

At issue is the claim that the parents of the driver were responsible, because the father brewed his own beer and left an open tap in the garage where his son lived. According to the victim’s family, this is tantamount to supplying alcohol to a minor.

The plaintiffs also claim that Cunningham is an alcoholic, and that their parents would have known that, and left the beer in the garage despite the knowledge.

The defense claims that the situation does not constitute supplying a minor with alcohol.

Michigan does have a social host law, which states that no one may allow an underage person to possess or consume alcohol. For the parents to win, they would have to prove either that they did not know that their son was consuming alcohol, or did not have control over the premises, or attempted to take corrective action.

In some ways, this kind of liability is the next front in the battle over drunk driving. Victims are understandably angry that they and their families are being hurt by drunk drivers, and it also appears that too many people who would not themselves drink and drive are too lax in letting others make that decision. The outcome of this particular case wil be decided in court. But in the coming years we can look forward to more victims placing responsibility not just on drunk drivers, but on parents, bartenders and others who might have had the chance to prevent a tragedy.