A social host is any individual who holds a social gathering, typically in a private setting, such as their home. Social host liability refers to the fact that a social host may be held liable for injuries that are caused by alcohol consumption during the social gathering.
In other words, if an individual who is intoxicated causes damage or injuries to a third party, the social host may be held liable for the damages incurred if they served that individual alcohol. Over half of the states in the United States have enacted social host liability laws that hold social hosts potentially liable if they serve alcohol to a minor who then becomes involved in an accident which causes injury to a third party.
In addition, some states will hold a social host potentially liable under existing dram shop laws. In almost every state, serving alcohol to a minor is considered a misdemeanor offense.
The penalties for this offense may include imprisonment, fines, and driver’s license suspension. The laws that govern social host liability may vary greatly by state because each state has different drinking laws.
Generally, the basic concept behind social host laws is that an individual who serves alcohol during their social event has a duty to prevent injury or death that results from drinking and driving. This means that a social host may be held liable for injuries that occur after a party and away from the physical location of the social gathering, so long as it can be proven that the social host served the alcohol.
This type of liability is most commonly associated with drunk driving accidents which occur after a host served a guest too much alcohol and then allowed that guest to drive, in spite of being clearly intoxicated.
Who Does Social Host Liability Apply to?
Social host liability may apply to any individual who acts as a host and serves alcohol as one of their hosting duties. The most common groups of social hosts include:
- Employers who facilitate drinking, such as at office parties and work social events;
- Bar and restaurant owners; and
- True social hosts, or those who are hosting a party for an event or a special occasion.
What are Presence Ordinances?
Presence ordinances provide that if underage drinking is occurring at a social event, such as a party, then all individuals who are at the party are assumed to be drinking. These laws, therefore, may leave a social host with a large amount of liability if a third party is injured as a result of the drinking.
In addition, the attendees of the party may be exposed to liability. Even a sober underage guest may receive a citation or be charged with a crime as a result of being present at a place where underage drinking is occurring.
The term presence ordinance may also apply to other situations that involve minors, for example, when an individual who is underage is not permitted to be on the streets due to an enforced curfew. Presence ordinances, however, commonly refer to situations that involve underage drinking at social events.
There are similar laws in some states that extend liability to parents who allow drinking on their property. These laws are sometimes unclear as to whether a parent may be held liable if they were not aware the underage drinking was occurring at their home.
In some situations, a parent may need to inspect the beverages that are being served or they may face liability under social host laws.
What are the Penalties for Violating Social Host Laws?
A violation of a social host law may result in numerous legal penalties for the social host. Citations may result in fines, jail time, or both.
In addition, if underage drinking was involved, a social host may be held liable for serving alcohol to a minor, which, as noted above, is a misdemeanor. A social host may also be held liable for injuries to a third party that are caused by intoxicated individuals who are leaving the event.
For example, if a social host serves alcohol to one of their guests and then that guest drives home intoxicated and injures another individual in an accident, the social host may then be held liable for the injured party’s losses. This may subject a social host to a civil claim where the individual will be required to pay for the injuries to the third party as well as damage to their property.
The legal consequences for a violation of social host laws may vary by state. Liability is typically increased if a social host serves alcohol to a guest who was already visibly intoxicated and the social host was aware that the individual would be driving.
What Does a Victim Need to Prove to Hold the Social Host Liable?
A social host may be held liable for injuries if a victim can show that the host knowingly served alcohol to an underaged individual and that the alcohol was the proximate cause of the accident. In addition, a social host in this situation may be responsible for the minor’s injuries as well as any injuries to third parties.
What Does Proximate Cause Mean?
Proximate cause means that there is a direct relationship between the intoxication and the accident. In other words, the accident would have never occurred if the host had not provided the alcohol to the minor.
Can a Parent Serve Alcohol to Their Own Child?
It is not against the law for a parent to serve alcohol to their own child or to their underage spouse if it occurs in the privacy of their own home. In some states, a child is permitted to drink alcohol at a private party so long as the child’s parent is present.
Parents, however, are not permitted to purchase alcohol for their underage children at a commercial establishment, such as a restaurant or bar. If the minor child is then involved in an accident that results in injuries to a third party, the parent may still face civil liability to the victim under social host liability laws.
What Can You Do if You are Sued for Providing Alcohol to a Minor?
If an individual is arrested or sued for providing alcohol to a minor or an intoxicated individual who later injured a third party, they should speak to a lawyer. A lawyer will inform them of their rights as well as defenses which may be available in their case.
What if I am a Victim of Drunk Driving or an Alcohol-Related Accident?
If an individual is a victim of a Drunk Driving DUI / DWI or other alcohol-related accident, they should speak to a DUI/DWI lawyer immediately to learn how to get compensation for their injuries.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Violations of Social Host Laws?
A violation of social host laws is serious and may lead to both civil liability and criminal charges. It is important for social hosts to understand their responsibility and duties as a host, especially if there will be alcohol served when underage guests are present.
If you are facing social host liability, it may be in your best interest to contact a juvenile lawyer. Your lawyer can advise you of the drinking laws in your state, whether you are likely to be found liable, and what defenses may be available in your case.