Social host liability is a group of laws or precedents addressing the responsibility or liability of someone who furnishes alcohol to someone else. The “host” is usually a person with a right to occupy property who gives alcoholic beverages to guests, and he doesn’t really need to be in a home but might be at an outdoor party, in a car, a boat, or elsewhere. Depending on the way social host liability laws are constructed within a jurisdiction, liability might only exist if alcohol is given to minors or it might cover adults too. With these laws, injury or accident occurring to or caused by the person who has been drinking may be both criminal and civil fault of the host, too.
Some social host liability laws are specifically aimed at cutting down on minors consuming alcohol. It is not uncommon for parents to determine they would rather have children drink at home than have them party elsewhere. Many feel that providing alcoholic drinks at home to underage guests is perfectly acceptable, but this attitude has led to tragic consequences in the past, including drunk driving that resulted in deaths or alcohol poisoning. When a region makes a strong stand and declares that legally a host is liable for deaths or accidents related to drinking, they’re usually discouraging parents from engaging in this practice.
Less commonly, social host liability extends to serving drinks to adults. The person hosting the party could be held responsible for accidents or injuries occurring to anyone who becomes intoxicated. These laws aren’t always “on the books” and liability might be decided on a case-by-case basis. In regions where such laws exist, people planning any form of party might want to think of methods to avoid liability for the actions of others, including serving limited amounts of alcohol or none at all.
In many cases, courts perceive social host liability as extending beyond the home or location of the host. The teenager who drinks at a person’s home and then jumps in a car and gets in an accident is a prime example of this. A rigid law would hold the host responsible for that accident and there could be at minimum civil court charges. Legal charges like endangering a minor could be brought too, since the host’s behavior could be construed as reckless or purposefully criminal.
In studies that evaluate social host liability practice and laws, there does appear to be evidence that these laws can be effective. They make people think twice, especially about providing alcohol to minors, and a correlation between reduced heavy drinking and stricter laws has been established in places like the US. Variations exist in these laws and in the precise circumstances under which they can be applied. Hosts may not be equally liable in all cases, particularly if there is no intent to serve a minor who takes advantage of access to alcohol at mixed-age gathering, such as a wedding.