New drinking law championed by advocates

Tess Langfus

The state chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving uses a tragic anecdote to illustrate the consequences of underage drinking and the need for a new law which went into effect this week.
Darlene Hapka, a MADD victim, advocate and grief support counselor at the St. Paul office, said the two-year-old incident underscores the importance of a new state law, which aims to reduce underage drinking.
An Anoka man fell asleep in the passenger seat of his friend’s vehicle when his friend lost control of the car and went off the road, Hapka recalled. The two underage friends had been drinking alcohol.
The friend abandoned his unconscious and badly injured passenger in the car and ran from the scene.
The young man, who nearly died, survived the crash but his entire face had to be reconstructed.
“He’s a handsome young man now,” Hapka said.
The young man, however, had no recourse to take action against the adult who supplied the driver with alcohol.
As of Aug. 1, that has changed, maybe not for the young man mentioned above, but for other victims of alcohol-related deaths and injuries.
The new law allows injured third parties to sue adults who provide alcohol to minors.
Previously, adults who provided alcohol to minors were only held criminally responsible under the law. An adult who supplied liquor could not be considered financially liable for any crime caused by the intoxicated minor.
Most minors are not going to bars to get liquor, but are getting their alcohol from adults — even their own parents, said Priscilla Lord Faris, an attorney at Faris & Faris Law Office, whose son was killed by a drunk driver in 1989.
“I’m not mad at anybody, I just want to make it a safer place for children,” Faris said, a Minnesota Joined Together member. “I just think it’s real important for people to be responsible.”
Minnesota Joined Together, a statewide organization made up of attorneys, MADD and other officials, successfully lobbied the Legislature to pass the bill.
Some University students argue the new law will be ineffective.
A University fraternity brother, who asked not to be identified so his fraternity does not “get into any trouble,” said the law will not deter him from drinking. Nor will it stop his older fraternity brothers from supplying the alcohol.
“With the fraternity, we’re always welcome to drink here,” said the 18-year-old student. He said the new law would not affect the older fraternity members, since the underage drinkers would not reveal their alcohol sources.
“We know that if we did, we would never get anything from them again,” he said. “The kids know it’s illegal, and it’s like cutting off their source.”
Furthermore, he said, when he becomes old enough to legally drink alcohol, he will most likely provide alcohol to his younger “brethren.”
“Because people helped me out, I’m going to return the favor. Kind of a continuing cycle,” he said.
Jon Kruse, a sergeant of arms at the Delta Tau Delta fraternity, said their policy is to not allow underage drinking at their social gatherings.
The ages of party-goers who line up for keg cups are verified by their state identification cards, Kruse said. Anyone not old enough to drink can still have a good time, but they are not supplied the alcohol.
Yet Kruse agreed the law is bound to have a “negligible effect, minimal at most” on adults who supply minors with liquor.
“Basically, there’s no news in this law,” he said.
While the law is not specifically directed at underage drinking, members of the Minnesota Joined Together committee said they hope it will slow down underage alcohol consumption by holding the adults who supply the liquor responsible.
“It’s a harsh law, but it’s really going to help adults say no,” Faris said. “That’s essentially what it’s going to do.”

Tess Langfus welcomes comments at [email protected]