If you serve alcohol in your home or some other social setting, you may face legal consequences if one of your guests drives and injures someone, or if a guest is under the legal drinking age of 21. Some states have laws that provide civil or criminal liability when a social host serves alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person - or to anyone underage.
These laws are meant to deter hosts from allowing guests to drive under the influence of alcohol after attending private social events and to discourage underage drinking parties.
Social Hosts Have Legal Responsibilities
You are a social host if you provide alcohol to guests for free. The setting can be in your home, such as a dinner with friends or a graduation party for your child. It can also be an event you host in a rented property that is under your control.
In some states, adults may be held responsible for any parties that occur on their property, even if they're not present and haven't provided alcohol to underage guests. Social host laws do not apply to bars or other commercial establishments that sell alcohol to customers.
Your Liability Is Determined by State Law
Many, but not all. states impose liability on hosts of social functions. Generally, if you are a social host and you provide alcohol to intoxicated or underage guests, you could be liable for any damages or injuries they cause. Some states limit the liability to damages or injuries that occur on your property or a property under your control. For example, you may be liable if a guest gets drunk and injures another guest at yourparty.
Other states impose liability on a social host for any damages and injuries caused by guests after they leave your property. For example, if an intoxicated guest leaves your party and injures someone while driving home, you may be held liable.
You Could Be Sued in Civil Court
In most states, if you serve alcohol to an adult guest who is clearly drunk and that guest causes an injury or damage, the person who was injured can sue you. Likewise, if you serve alcoholic beverages to an underage guest, you can be sued if that person injures someone.
The minor or his parents may also sue you for serving alcohol in the first place. These civil lawsuits are usually based on specific state laws involving host liability or negligence. Negligence is a failure to use reasonable care; a failure that results in injury or damage.
Criminal Prosecution for Serving Minors
All states prohibit providing alcoholic beverages to minors. Some states impose criminal penalties only for bars, stores, and other commercial establishments that sell alcohol to underage drinkers. Other states extend criminal punishments to include social hosts who serve alcoholic beverages to minors. In these states, you could be prosecuted for aiding and abetting the delinquency of a minor. Penalties range from fines to imprisonment.
A Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding civil and criminal liability related to hosts providing alcoholic beverages at social functions is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a civil or criminal defense lawyer.