Social Host Liability: Presence Ordinances

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What Is Social Host Liability?

A “social host” is any person who holds a social gathering, usually at a private setting such as a home. Social host liability refers to the fact that the social host may be held responsible for injuries caused by alcohol consumption during the social gathering. In other words, if a drunk person causes damage or injuries to a third party, the social host may be held liable for the damages if they served the person alcohol.

The laws covering social host liability may vary drastically from state to state, since each state has different drinking laws. In general, the basic notion behind social host laws is that a person who serves alcohol during their social event has a duty to prevent injury or death resulting from drinking and driving. 

Thus, the social host may even be held liable for injuries that occur after the party, away from the physical location of the social gathering, so long as it can be proven that the social host served the alcohol. 

What Are “Presence Ordinances”?

A presence ordinance basically states that if underage drinking is occurring at a social event such as a party, then all persons at the party are assumed to be drinking. Such laws may therefore leave the social host with great amounts of liability if third parties are injured due to the drinking. 

Also, the attendees of such a party may be exposed to liability as well. Even sober underage guests may receive a ticket citation or even criminal charges, simply by being “present” at a scene where underage drinking is occurring. 

The term “presence ordinance” can also apply in other situations involving minors, such as when persons under age are not allowed to be on the streets due to an enforced curfew. However, presence ordinance commonly refers to situations involving underage drinking at a social event. 

Other states have similar laws, which extend liability to parents who simply “allow” drinking on their property. Such laws are sometimes unclear as to whether parent may be held liable even if they did not have knowledge of the underage drinking at their home. In some instances the parent may need to inspect each beverage being served, or else they may face liability under social host laws.

What Are the Penalties for Violating Social Host Laws?

Violations of social host laws can result in many legal penalties for the social host. A citation can result in fines, and/or jail time. Also, if underage drinking was involved, the host may be liable for serving alcohol to a minor, which is a misdemeanor crime.

In addition, social hosts may be held liable for injuries to a third party caused by drunken persons who are leaving the event. For example, if the social host served alcohol to one of their guests, and that guest then drove home intoxicated and injured someone in an accident, the social host may be liable for the injured party’s losses. This may even subject the social host to a civil claim in which they will have to pay for the third party’s injuries, and possibly for damage to their property. 

The legal consequences for violating a social host law may vary according to state. However, liability is typically increased if the social host served alcohol to a guest who was already visibly intoxicated, and if the social host knew that the person would be driving. 

Do I Need a Lawyer for Violations of Social Host laws?

Violations of social host laws are serious and may lead to both civil and criminal liability. It is important that a social host understand their responsibility and duty as a host, especially if they will be serving alcohol where underage guests are present. If you are facing social host liability, it is in your best interest to contact a lawyer for assistance. Your attorney can explain your state’s drinking laws to you, and will be able to help in defending your claim.

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Last Modified: 06-05-2014 12:43 PM PDT

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