High court to take up Deerfield drinking party case

Updated 3/19/2011 9:37 AM

SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments next week in the case of a Lake County underage drinking party that resulted in the deaths of two teens and a conviction of the parents who owned the home.

Daniel Bell and Ross Trace, both 18, died in 2006 after Bell attempted to drive home from the party while drunk, crashing his car into a tree.


The parents whose son hosted the party, Sara and Jeffrey Hutsell, of Deerfield, were convicted of violating the state's liquor control act and endangering the health of a child, both misdemeanors. Both were sentenced to probation and Jeffrey Hutsell was sentenced to 14 days in jail.

The party at the Hutsells' house had dozens of attendees, some of whom testified that the parents were sitting in a nearby room as the teenagers drank.

Now, a lawsuit filed by Bell's mother has made it to the state's high court. She argues that the Hutsells should be held civilly liable for her son's death.

"How can there be no civil penalty?" said Bell's attorney, Jeffrey Deutschman.

The court's eventual ruling, depending on what the justices say, could have far-reaching implications in Illinois for parents who find themselves in similar situations.

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The Hutsells' attorneys have argued that state law clearly says that hosts of an event can't be held liable for what happens to guests after they leave. The attorneys didn't return several calls requesting comment.

Bell's mother argues, though, that because the Hutsells didn't provide any of the alcohol, they shouldn't be considered social hosts under the law. She argues they voluntarily agreed to monitor the party and failed to do so properly.

A Lake County court agreed with the Hutsells and dismissed the suit. An appellate court reversed the decision, though, and the case faces a Supreme Court argument Tuesday.

A decision would come months later.