A Complete Guide to Serving and Hosting Responsibly

Chapter 2: How and When Can You Be Liable for Liquor-Fueled Accidents?
Part 3: How Do Social Host Ordinances Hold Event Hosts Liable?

As we mentioned in Chapter 1, it's not just businesses and business owners who have to worry about liquor liability. Owners of residential property have liquor liability regardless of who purchased and consumed the alcohol. Social host laws enforce this liability.

Social host laws vary drastically from state to state. While some states do not impose any liability on social hosts, others states hold social hosts responsible for injuries that occur on their premises. Read on to learn more.

How Do Social Host Laws Affect Individuals?

The aim of most social host liability laws is to reduce alcohol-related injuries and deaths by minors who drink illegally. They accomplish that goal by giving party hosts (typically parents or another adult in charge) incentive not to serve or make alcohol available to minors.

But just as dram shop laws vary from state to state (and even county to county), so do social host laws. State laws may…

  • Impose social host liability.
  • Explicitly grant immunity to social hosts.
  • Relate to adult hosts furnishing alcohol to minors.
  • Relate to adult hosts furnishing alcohol to both minors and intoxicated adults.

Some states have even more specific laws. In New Hampshire, for example, a minor who serves other minors may be held liable. And if the host was unaware that underage drinking was taking place in their home, they could still be liable for injuries – even though they weren't present and didn't provide the alcohol.

For an example of how these statutes work, let's take a look at another state: New Jersey. In the Garden State, social hosts can be liable for the injuries a "visibly intoxicated" guest causes, so long as the third party's injuries were due to the guest driving while under the influence. In the eyes of New Jersey's courts, the provision of alcohol by a host and self-service by guests are one and the same. The blame comes back to the host.

Some states have only recently adopted formal social host laws. According to a press release by the Illinois Liquor Control Commission, the state passed its social host law in 2012 in response to the fact that friends and family members are often the primary source of alcohol for underage drinking. Those who violate the social host law can be charged a misdemeanor and fined no less than $500 if they knowingly permit underage drinking in their home.

If the intoxicated minor engages in an activity that harms or kills another person, the social host can be charged with a felony. But so long as the social host has taken all reasonable steps to prevent the activity (such as drunk driving) from occurring, they won't be charged.


Does Your State Have Social Host Laws?

As you have seen, social host laws are common, but the specifics of the laws vary wildly from state to state. The map below indicates which states have laws that relate to social host liability and underage parties and which ones have general social host laws.


'MAP: Underage Drinking: Prohibitions Against Hosting Underage Drinking Parties.'

Remember, even if your state doesn't have social host laws, you could still be charged with civil or criminal liability over an alcohol-related incident. Many states without these ordinances apply other laws to hold party hosts criminally responsible for allowing underage guests to consume alcohol or over-serving adult guests who then harm third parties.

Next: Chapter 3: Liquor Liability Lawsuits: Everything You Need to Know

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