If someone gets drunk at my party, am I liable if they get into an accident?
In some states, under “social host liability" laws, a person
who hosts a social event may be on the legal hook for injuries if they provide
alcohol to a guest who causes an alcohol-related accident after drinking to the
point of intoxication. Be aware that not every state has this kind of law on
the books, and the ones that do use different standards for holding a host
Let’s look at an example. Let’s say Holly invites Damon over
to her house for a wine and cheese party. Damon ignores the cheese in favor of
glass after glass of his favorite zinfandel, which Holly continues to encourage
long after it’s clear that Damon has had a few too many. After a few hours, Holly
says goodnight to Damon and walks him to his car. At an intersection, Damon
blows through a red light and plows his car into Paul’s car.
In every state, Paul would be able to bring a personal
injury case against Damon over the car accident. And in states that have a “social
host liability” law, Paul may also be able to make a civil claim against Holly.
But whether Holly is liable depends on the language of the statute. In some
states, Holly will only be liable if she somehow broke the law in providing
alcohol to Damon (if he’s under 21, for example.) Elsewhere, Holly might be
liable if she “knew or should have known” that Damon was intoxicated, and/or if
she “knew or should have known” that Damon would be driving a vehicle.
It’s important to remember that not every state has passed
this kind of law; in fact, some states have enacted legislation that
specifically shields a social host from civil liability if a guest has too much
to drink and ends up causing an accident.
A logical follow-up question is, “Can a guest who gets drunk
at my party sue me if they end up getting into an accident?” In other words, can
Damon sue Holly if he is injured in the accident? The answer here is almost
always no. Even in states that have fairly liberal “social host” laws,
liability usually only extends to third parties who are harmed by the
intoxicated guest’s conduct. A “first party” claim by the intoxicated guest
will almost always fail. One notable exception is where a host provides alcohol to a minor. In that situation, a minor who is injured in an alcohol-related accident (even one they themselves caused) may be able to file a lawsuit against the host.
Learn more about Alcohol-Related
Accidents and Injuries.
by: David Goguen, J.D.