Social Host Liability Law

Responsibility of the Host

Many states have adopted social host liability laws. While the legal concept of social host liability as is manifested in the law and court decisions, will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, this concept generally holds that “proprietors may be liable for injuries to third persons which are the result of the negligence of another individual who became intoxicated at the proprietor’s tavern”. Sponsors of parties at which intoxicants are served, particularly to minors, could be found negligent under the social host doctrine.

Social host liability is a form of liability which has risen in several American state jurisdictions. The host is the one who serves alcohol to customers or to guests who then drive home drunk. The host owes a duty to road-users injured by the drunk drivers. At first the imposition of a duty or care was limited to the owners of bars and restaurants, ‘commercial hosts’, but in the New Jersey case of Kelly v. Gwinnell it was extended to cover the ‘social host’ who plies his party guests with alcohol.

Social Host liability law is similar to dram shop laws but is applicable to private individuals who serve alcohol to visitors to their home where as dram shop laws are applicable to commercial establishments that provide or serve alcohol to their patrons.

Social host liability law varies from state to state. Not all states have social host liability laws. In some states, social host liability is applicable only if alcohol is served to minors. In some states, the host need not provide the guest with alcohol. Even if the guest walks up to the cupboard or bar and opens the bottle and consumes the alcohol all by himself, i.e. self service, the host will still be liable in some states. Few states have similar laws on drug consumption.

States with social host liability applicable to all guests

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • Connecticut
  • Hawaii
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Missouri
  • New Jersey
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

States with social host liability applicable only to minor guests

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Kansas
  • Michigan
  • New Hampshire
  • Utah
  • Wyoming

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