Social Host Liability Laws

social host liability laws

Social host liability is a legal concept that holds a person who hosts a party or gathering responsible for injuries that occur as a result of providing alcohol to guests. If a host supplies alcohol to minors or excessive alcohol to anyone, and that guest is involved in or causes an accident, social host liability laws allow the person who suffered injury to recover damages and can result in the host facing criminal charges. 

What are social host liability laws?

As stated, social host liability (SHL) laws impose liability on hosts for injuries that occur when they serve alcohol. SHL laws are similar to dram shop laws. Dram shop laws hold bars, restaurants, and similar, alcohol-serving establishments responsible for injuries caused by intoxicated customers. The difference between dram shop laws and SHL laws is that dram shop laws apply only to sellers of alcohol, and SHL laws can be imposed on anyone who provides alcohol to guests.

SHL laws vary significantly from state to state. Most SHL laws are narrowly targeted towards reducing alcohol-related injuries and deaths by minors. Some states, however, have more general laws, which are not limited to just minors, but to anyone who was allowed to drink excessively to the point where he or she was injured or killed or caused another’s injury or death.

Most states—about half—only impose responsibility under SHL laws on a host who provides alcohol to someone under the legal drinking age. About a quarter of states have stricter SHL laws, imposing a responsibility on a host who provides alcohol not only to minors, but to adults, as well. The remaining quarter of the states have no SHL laws at all, imposing no responsibility on hosts serving alcohol to minors or adults. Notably, there is trend towards all states adopting SHL laws, and for those states with SHL laws already on the books, adopting stricter SHL laws.

Victims of Alcohol-Related Injuries

If you are the victim of an alcohol-related injury, you may be able to hold homeowners, renters, or anyone else who provided alcohol to the guest liable. Generally, anyone injured by an intoxicated guest can bring a personal injury claim under SHL laws in states where such laws exist. There are two types of SHL cases, first party and third party cases. A “first party” SHL case exists when the injured plaintiff is the person who was given the alcohol. Most states do not allow first party SHL cases unless the plaintiff is a minor. A “third party” SHL case is when a party other than the person who was given the alcohol is injured. Liability in SHL cases can be based on negligence, but can also be based on recklessness or even intentional conduct, depending on the individual state’s law.

Recklessness is when a person is aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that something unsafe will happen. In other words, recklessness occurs when the host knew or should have known that the guest was drinking too much and that giving the guest another drink was likely to lead to something safe, but gave the guest another drink anyway. Some states have SHL laws that require intentional conduct. In other words, the law requires that the host knew that the guest was under the legal drinking age of twenty-one—not “knew or should have known” but actually knew.

If you plan to serve alcohol at a party or gathering, make sure you understand your state’s SHL laws. To minimize your potential liability, you should consider hosting the party at a venue with a liquor license, rather than your home. Because social host liability laws vary from state to state, whether you’re a victim or a host in a SHL situation, you should consult a lawyer to help assess your potential recovery or liability—civil lawyers and criminal lawyers.

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Posted - 05/22/2017