What is Social Host Liability

Social host liability is a legal term and area of law that deals with the liability of a person who supplies liquor to a guest. Under social host liability laws, the host shares any liability incurred as a result of actions by an intoxicated guest to whom he or she has served liquor. This law is similar to dram shop liability which applies to bars, taverns, liquor stores and other businesses that serve alcohol.

BREAKING DOWN Social Host Liability

These laws have particular relevance in the area of drinking and driving, with the host sharing the liability if an inebriated guest meets with an accident. The scope of social host liability laws varies in different jurisdictions, with some states focusing on the serving of liquor to underage youth rather than to intoxicated adults.

Social Host Liability for Underage Drinking

In the United States, adults have a legal responsibility not to furnish or serve alcohol to minors. Furnish means to make alcohol available, while serve means to “knowingly and affirmatively deliver” alcohol to minors. In nine states, social host liability laws apply only to adults who furnish or serve alcohol to minors. In these states, adults can be held liable for deaths or injuries caused by intoxicated minors, if they can be found to have furnished or served the alcohol to the minors. In Illinois, the social host liability law covers illegal drugs as well as alcohol.

This may be true even if the adult(s) in question were not present at the time of the underage drinking. For example, 16-year-old Tom’s parents go out of the town for the weekend, and while they are away, Tom throws a party at which there is underage drinking. Someone drives drunk, and gets into an accident resulting in injury or death. Tom’s parents may be held liable, if it can be shown that they knew or should have known that Tom would throw a party and offer alcohol to his underage guests in their absence. In some jurisdictions, Tom himself might be held liable for giving alcohol to his underage guests.

Social Host Liability for Adults

In 18 states, social host liability laws apply to guests of all ages. In some jurisdictions, these laws hold the host liable not only for injuries suffered by an intoxicated guest, but also for injuries or death to third parties arising from actions taken by an inebriated guest. In other jurisdictions, such as New Jersey, the host is liable only for injuries or death to the third party, and not to the guest.