Liquor Liability by State
Social host liability definitions vary from state to state, and you should know your state’s social host liquor liability laws before serving alcohol at your next home gathering. Some states have no social host laws, and some states even have laws protecting hosts from being held liable if an intoxicated guest causes injury or death.
But in states which enforce social host liability, the laws fall under one of two categories: general social host liability laws and social host laws that apply to minors. This means that in states with general social host liability laws if a drunk driver of any age injures a third party, the injured party may be able to sue the driver as well as the host of the gathering where the driver became intoxicated. But in most states with general social host laws, a host can only be held liable for damages an intoxicated adult guest causes if the host served alcohol to said guest while they were already obviously intoxicated.
In states where social host liability is specific to providing minors with alcohol, a host can only be held liable for damages if the driver was underage. But in some cases, a host can be charged for supplying a minor with alcohol whether they cause harm or not. Typically, though, these laws allow injured parties to pursue civil charges against the perpetrator and the host. In some cases, this can lead to criminal charges as well.
Still, each state’s social host laws have specifications. Some states offer more protections for social hosts. States like Ohio, Wyoming, and Texas allow minors to drink alcohol if an adult family member allows it or is present. Social hosts in Georgia are only liable for damage caused by intoxicated guests if the host knew the guest would be driving. Accident victims in New Mexico can only sue social hosts if they can prove the host provided alcohol “recklessly in disregard of the rights of others, including the social guest.” Oregon hosts are only liable for damages that their guests cause if it can be proven that the guest was already intoxicated when the host served them alcohol, and as long as the injured party was not responsible for the assailant’s intoxication.
Other states have strict social host laws, aiming to protect intoxicated guests as well as any third parties a drunk guest may injure. In New Hampshire, intoxicated guests who injure themselves can sue their hosts if they can prove the hosts’ negligence. Hosts in Montana are liable for any damages their guests cause if the intoxicated adult was forced or coerced into drinking. Similarly, if someone in South Carolina encourages or allows excessive drinking—whether the host or not—they can be liable for any damages the drunk person causes. In Connecticut, if a person knows that a minor is drinking alcohol, it is illegal for them not to intervene and attempt to stop the minor from drinking.
States with general social host laws:
States with social host laws specific to serving minors:
States where social hosts are not liable for intoxicated guests:
In the six states where social hosts can’t be held liable for any damages their intoxicated guests cause, they can still be criminally charged if they served alcohol to minors who were not family members, whether the intoxicated minor caused damage or not.
Social Host Liability 101
Social host liability laws were inspired by dram shop laws, which hold bars accountable for damages—primarily car accidents—caused by intoxicated guests. The main difference between dram shop laws and social host liability laws is that social host liability applies to any type of host, regardless of whether they are selling, or licensed to sell, alcohol.
Social host liability—which is most often enforced via social host and liquor liability laws—means that party hosts are responsible if an intoxicated guest inflicts property damage or bodily injury on another person after leaving the host’s home. Most commonly, these laws apply to drunk driving and underage drinking and leave hosts legally responsible for any harm their guests may cause. While these laws do not apply to any injuries a drunk guest inflicts upon themselves, a social host can be held civilly or even criminally liable if the intoxicated guest injures another person.
But social host liability doesn’t only apply to parties and large gatherings. A social host can be anyone who directly provides a guest with alcohol or who simply has alcohol in a private residence where guests can access it. Hosting a small girls’ night with wine and cheese? You’re a social host. Your teenager invites over a friend, and they break into the liquor cabinet after you go to bed? You’re a social host. Grandma helped herself to a Bloody Mary at brunch when no one was looking? You’re a social host. Whether you’re hosting 50 guests or five—and regardless of whether you serve alcohol or if it is simply accessible in your home—you can be considered a social host. And if an intoxicated guest leaves and causes harm, you can be held liable for the damages.
These laws also apply to various injuries and damages that intoxicated guests cause and are separate from federal drinking laws. For instance, let’s say an adult provides alcohol to a minor who is not a family member, but the intoxicated minor doesn’t cause damage or harm. The adult is not necessarily subject to social host liability, but they still defied the National Minimum Drinking Age Act. This means the adult could still face misdemeanor charges for providing a minor with alcohol, even though the minor did not cause any harm.
So what does this mean for you, and how does it affect your upcoming gathering? First, you need to determine your state’s social host laws to find out what you can be held responsible for when serving alcohol to your guests. If an intoxicated guest causes any type of damage, you may already be covered. Keep reading to learn your state’s liquor liability laws and to find out if your home insurance provider covers personal liability and liquor liability so you can keep the “fun” in your upcoming function.