A Social Host's Liability for Serving Alcohol
How effective are common-sense steps (like not serving alcohol to minors and cutting off people who’ve obviously had too much, and taking their keys) in protecting against lawsuits?
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First, a disclaimer: Although I am an attorney, the legal information in this podcast is not intended to be a substitute for seeking personalized legal advice from an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. Further, I do not intend to create an attorney-client relationship with any listener.
Today’s topic is a social host’s liability for serving alcohol. Michael wrote:
I belong to a social club that occasionally hosts events at members’ houses. A question has risen over serving alcohol. If person A drinks too much and gets in an accident by hitting person B, who will be held liable? The organization, or the person at whose house the event took place? Can person A sue? How effective are common-sense steps (like not serving alcohol to minors and cutting off people who’ve obviously had too much, and taking their keys) in protecting against lawsuits? How likely are we to be sued over this?
Thanks Michael. The short answer is that, in most states, neither the club nor the individual host can be liable for serving alcohol to adults, but might be liable for serving to minors. The quick and dirty tip is simply never serve alcohol to minors, and do not encourage drunk adults to drink more.
Under the old common law, a furnisher of alcohol could not be held liable for the injury or death of a person who consumed the alcoholic beverages. The theory behind the common-law rule was that the consumption of the liquor, rather than the furnishing of it, caused the injuries.
In modern times, states have enacted “dram shop statutes” that changed this rule. Under these statutes, a person or company that is in the business of selling alcohol can be held liable for injuries caused by the intoxicated patron—adults or minors. This is one reason that bartenders will stop serving customers who are visibly drunk. But, these statutes do not generally apply to social hosts who serve alcohol out of kindness or hospitality. But, at least one court has concluded that a social host can be liable if he recklessly encourages a guest to continue when it is obvious that the guest was drunk.