Social Host Liability Laws & Drunk Driving Lawsuits

Social Host Liability Laws & Drunk Driving Lawsuits2018-11-09T15:02:29+00:00
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In some states, social hosts can be held accountable for the injuries caused by intoxicated guests or minors.

  • Drunk driving accidents
  • Fights and sexual assault
  • Wrongful death

Social host liability laws are extremely complex. You and your loved ones may be entitled to financial compensation, but you'll need experienced legal guidance. To learn more, contact our attorneys now for a free consultation.

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A number of states hold social hosts liable for allowing minors and visibly intoxicated adults to access alcohol.

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28 people die in drunk driving accidents every day. Thousands of innocent patrons are injured in alcohol-fueled bar fights. Alcohol is a contributor to nearly 80% of the crimes committed in America, according to conviction records analyzed by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. The link between alcohol and criminal activity is clear and incontrovertible.

Social Host Liability For Injuries Caused By Party Guests

Businesses that serve and sell alcohol have a special duty to ply their trade in a safe manner, but a lot of the drinking that goes on in America takes place at private parties, not bars and nightclubs.

Party Guest Pouring Champagne

It turns out that, just like licensed establishments, social hosts in some states can be held accountable for negligently providing alcohol to guests, especially when those guests are under the legal drinking age.

How Liquor Liability Works

Every state has made it illegal to serve alcohol to people who are already visibly intoxicated. It's also illegal to "furnish" a minor with alcohol. Bars, restaurants, nightclubs and liquor stores who violate these laws can be hit with serious criminal penalties.

But if someone else gets hurt due to illegal alcohol service, a licensed establishment can also be held accountable through the civil justice system.

Dram Shop Laws & A Victim's Right To Sue

In almost every state, dram shop laws allow the victims of drunk driving accidents, bar assaults and other alcohol-related crimes to sue the licensed establishment who served alcohol to the criminal perpetrator.

It might surprise you to learn that this sort of liquor liability can actually extend beyond businesses that are licensed to serve alcohol. In some cases, social hosts can also be held accountable for the wrongful actions of their intoxicated guests.

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What Is A Social Host?

State laws vary on the definition of a social host, but the basic idea is simple. A social host, in most jurisdictions, is someone who furnishes (provides or supplies) alcohol for non-commercial purposes (i.e. is not a business with financial interests in the provision of alcohol) and either serves or allows alcohol to be consumed on a property that they control.

Normally, that property is a private residence, but it could also be a hotel room, a yacht or even a section of beach. Some states have an additional requirement that there be no employment relationship between the host and his or her guests.

DWI Accident Lawsuits

The concept of social host liability is usually invoked in cases that involve drunk driving accidents. When an intoxicated party guest gets into a car and hurts someone else, it may be possible to file a civil lawsuit against the party's host.

Social host liability doesn't go very far, however. Most states limit these lawsuits to cases involving car accidents caused by intoxicated minors. More specifically, the vast majority of jurisdictions recognize that adults shouldn't provide minors with alcohol or, through their own negligence, allow minors to access alcohol.

There are many state-established exceptions when parents allow their children to drink in a private residence, but those exceptions end, especially in the realm of civil responsibility, when the minor gets into a car.

Negligent Service & Party Host Duties

It would be negligent, in other words, to serve or furnish (make available) alcohol to a minor if you had reason to believe that the minor would soon be driving while intoxicated. As a result, social hosts who allow minors to drink and drive (either intentionally or through negligence) may be on the hook for any injuries that occur as a result.

Most states don't allow social host liability to be applied when intoxicated adult party guests go on to cause a car accident. In states where social host liability is recognized for drunk driving accidents caused by adults, it's usually mandatory to prove both that the party's host knew the guest was intoxicated and that the guest would soon be driving, but allowed the person to access alcohol anyway.

Social Host Laws From State-To-State

As we noted earlier, social host liability isn't recognized in every state. Some jurisdictions have laws that explicitly rule out the possibility of suing a social host after a DWI accident. Elsewhere, liability can be imposed when social hosts provide alcohol to guests in a negligent manner. Let's take a closer look at these variations in state law.

Allowing Minors To Drink

At least 30 states recognize some form of social host liability that holds adult party hosts accountable for the harmful actions of intoxicated minors:

  • Alabama - Adult social hosts can be sued if they knew that a minor was using or in possession of alcohol at their residence and failed to take reasonable actions to prevent the minor from drinking.
  • Arizona - Social hosts can be held liable for personal injuries or property damage that occur as the result of an intoxicated minor's actions if they served or furnished "spirituous liquor" to the minor.
  • Colorado - Social hosts are civilly liable for injuries caused by an intoxicated minor if it is proven that the host knowingly served or provided an alcoholic beverage to the minor.
  • Connecticut - While the Connecticut legislature hasn't passed a civil statute to this effect, the State's Supreme Court has ruled that social hosts who knowingly or negligently provide alcohol can be held liable for the injuries caused by an intoxicated minor, including injuries sustained by the minor him or herself.
  • Georgia - A social host can be held liable for serving alcohol to a minor who goes on to cause injuries, but only if the host knew that the minor would "soon be driving a motor vehicle," according to Georgia Code § 51-1-40.
  • Hawaii - Adults who provide alcohol to people under the legal drinking age can be held liable for injuries caused by the intoxicated minor.
  • Idaho - Adults who furnish alcohol to minors can be held accountable for resulting injuries, but only if they knew or "ought reasonably to have known" that the intoxicated person was under age.
  • Illinois - Social hosts who provide alcohol to minors can be held liable for injuries caused by an intoxicated minor.
  • Indiana - Social host liability can be applied to party hosts who serve or furnish alcohol to minors.
  • Maine - Social hosts can be held liable for injuries caused by an intoxicated minor if they knew or should have known that the person accessing alcohol was a minor.
  • Massachusetts - Massachusetts State case law has established that social hosts who provide or furnish alcohol to minors can be held liable for injuries caused by an intoxicated minor
  • Michigan - Adults who provide alcohol to minors may be held accountable for injuries caused due to a minor's resulting intoxication
  • Minnesota - Social host liability is widely applied in Minnesota where injuries caused by minor party guests are concerned. When an intoxicated minor goes on to harm someone else, social hosts who sold or furnished the alcohol can be held accountable. Also, social hosts with "control" over the premises who fail to prevent the consumption of alcohol by a minor, despite being able to do so, can be found liable for any injuries that result.
  • Mississippi - Social hosts who provide alcohol to minors can be held liable for accidents caused by the minor, whether or not the minor was visibly intoxicated at the party.
  • Montana - Social host liability applies when a minor was provided with alcohol, even though the host knew (or should have known) that the person was under the legal drinking age.
  • New Hampshire - Social hosts who serve alcohol to a minor can be held liable for injuries caused due to the minor's intoxication.
  • New Jersey - Adult social hosts can be held accountable for serving or allowing a minor to access alcohol, including for injuries sustained by the minor him or herself.
  • New Mexico - Social hosts are liable for the injuries caused by an intoxicated minor if the alcohol was provided "recklessly in disregard of the rights of others."
  • New York - Social hosts can be held liable if they knowingly caused intoxication by providing alcohol to a person who they knew or should have known was under the legal drinking age.
  • North Carolina - Social host liability may apply when a host serves or furnishes alcohol to a minor who they knew or should have known was intoxicated.
  • North Dakota - Adults who serve or provide minors with alcohol can be held liable for injuries that result.
  • Ohio - A social host who knowingly furnishes alcohol to a minor can be found liable for any injuries caused as a result of the minor's intoxication.
  • Oregon - Social hosts who provide alcohol to a visibly intoxicated minor may be held liable for injuries.
  • Pennsylvania - Adult social hosts who "knowingly furnish" alcohol to minors can be sued for personal injuries or death caused as a result of a minor's intoxication.
  • South Carolina - A social host who intentionally serves or furnishes alcohol to a minor is liable for any resulting injuries caused by the intoxicated minor, including injuries suffered by the minor him or herself.
  • Texas - Adult social hosts who knowingly serve or provide alcohol to people under the age of 18 can be found liable for any injuries caused due to the minor's intoxication. Liability does not apply when the social host is the minor's parent, guardian or legal custodian.
  • Utah - A social host who "directly gives or otherwise provides" alcohol to someone under the age of 21 may be held liable for any resulting injuries, but only if the host knew or should have known that the person accessing alcohol was a minor.
  • Vermont - Social hosts can be held accountable for furnishing "intoxicating liquor" to minors who go on to cause personal injuries.
  • Washington State - A social host who knowingly provides or allows a minor to access alcohol can be held liable for injuries that occur due to the minor's intoxication.
  • Wisconsin - Social hosts who provide alcohol to minors can be held accountable for subsequent injuries if the minor's intoxication was a "substantial factor" in the accident.

Most of these legal protections disappear when a DWI accident involves an intoxicated adult, but that's not always the case.

Allowing Visibly Intoxicated Adults To Drink More

Below, you'll find details on the 10 states that allow at least some degree of social host liability

  • Georgia - A social host can be held liable for knowingly furnishing or serving "a person who is in a state of noticeable intoxication, knowing that such person will soon be driving a motor vehicle."
  • Idaho - Social host liability can be imposed when a host provides alcohol to an adult guest who is obviously intoxicated.
  • Indiana - A social host can be found accountable for furnishing alcohol to an adult who they know, or should know, to be intoxicated.
  • Maine - Social hosts who serve visibly intoxicated adults can be held liable for the injuries caused as a result of intoxication.
  • Montana - Where intoxicated adults are concerned, social host liability in Montana applies under only one circumstance: when the adult was forced, coerced or tricked into drinking alcohol.
  • New Hampshire - Social hosts can be held accountable for serving or furnishing alcohol in a "reckless" manner. Current New Hampshire case law holds that "reckless" service includes knowingly providing alcohol to a visibly intoxicated adult.
  • New Jersey - Social hosts who knowingly provide alcohol to visibly intoxicated adults, or provide alcohol "under circumstances manifesting reckless disregard of the consequences" that create an unreasonable risk of harm can be held accountable for injuries that result from a subsequent motor vehicle accident.
  • New Mexico - Social hosts can be held accountable for furnishing alcohol to adult guests "if the alcoholic beverages were provided recklessly in disregard of the rights of others."
  • North Carolina - Social host liability can be applied if a host serves or provides alcohol to a guest who they know (or should know) is intoxicated, but only if they also know (or should know) that the person will soon be driving.
  • North Dakota - Social hosts who serve or furnish alcohol to an adult who is "incompetent" or "obviously intoxicated" can be held liable for any resulting injuries.
  • Oregon - A social host can be held liable for serving or providing alcohol to a "visibly intoxicated" guest.

It should be clear that social host liability laws are extremely "local" in nature. We urge you to contact a local attorney to learn more about the laws that apply in your own jurisdiction.

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