Serving alcohol at a party comes with a great deal of responsibility. Many hosts do not realize they may face legal consequences if a guest drives while inebriated and injures or kills someone, or if any guest is under the legal drinking age of 21.
If you are going to throw a party for whatever reason, make sure you are aware of the laws in your state relating to serving alcohol to guests.
Some states have laws on the books that confer criminal or civil liability if a host serves alcoholic beverages to underage guests or to guests that are clearly drunk. Some states do not. The rationale behind the existence of laws of this nature is to put a lid on underage drinking at parties and to mandate that hosts not allow drunken guests to drive. Some states impose liability on a host or hostess for injuries or damages caused after guests leave a gathering.
Your gathering or party may be held anywhere, from your own home to a rented property under your control. Be aware that the state you live in may hold you liable for any party held on your property, even if you are not there and have not provided alcohol to underage partygoers.
When hosting a private party and the alcohol is free for those in attendance, you are referred to as a social host. Laws that apply to social hosts do not apply to bars or other commercial locations that sell alcohol to customers.
Aside from facing criminal charges for drinking and driving, drunk drivers may also face civil lawsuits for their role in a serious or deadly accident. The host or hostess of the function the driver was attending may also be a named defendant in a civil lawsuit for continuing to provide a drunken partygoer with booze.
Were minors present at the social function you hosted? Were they served alcoholic beverages? If so, that minor or his or her parents may sue you for serving alcohol in violation of existing state laws, whether an accident or injury happened or not. All states prohibit serving liquor to minors. Negligence plays a part in lawsuits of this type, as the social host has a duty of care not to serve minors and not to continue to serve drunken attendees.
States with liability laws applicable only to minors: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, New Hampshire, Utah and Wyoming.
Depending on the state you live in, there may only be criminal penalties for commercially licensed locations, bars and stores that sell alcohol to minors. Other states sanction social hosts who violate the laws relating to serving drinks to minors — referred to as aiding and abetting in the delinquency of a minor. A social host must realize a that guest is intoxicated and should not be provided with any more alcohol. Many hosts do not also realize this same law also applies to other intoxicating substances.
Each state has its own range of fines and penalties. If you have been fined or have been named in a lawsuit, seek experienced criminal defense counsel to find out the parameters of your particular situation and what options may be open to you.
States that have social host liability laws that apply across the board to all guests are:
- New Jersey
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina