If you’re someone who enjoys hosting parties at your home, providing food and drink so that your guests have a good time, you should be aware of what is known in California as “social host liability”. Social host liability generally refers to whether or not a host of a party where alcohol is served can potentially be held civilly liable for accidents and injuries caused by someone who became intoxicated at the party. The laws vary by state, and the law recently changed in California, so it’s worthwhile to take a look at it.
When an intoxicated person causes an accident or injury, including car accidents, it is not uncommon for the injured person to sue, and then questions about causation arise: who actually caused the accident to happen? Was it the intoxicated person who chose to drink too much? Or was it also the host who decided to serve alcohol in the first place? Some states’ laws say that the causal chain goes all the way back to the person who served alcohol—the host—and that the injured person can sue the host. But that is not the general rule in California. Here, social hosts who provide alcoholic beverages to people in general cannot be held legally accountable for damages to that person or anyone else that stem from the alcohol consumption.
The one exception to this rule is if a host knowingly serves alcoholic beverages to a minor. Then, the host MAY be subject to liability. Of course, just because it is possible to sue a host doesn’t mean that they will definitely be held liable. The person brining the lawsuit will still have to show to that providing alcohol to the minor is actually what caused the injury or death to occur.
If you are providing your guests with alcohol, it is always best to exercise caution and be a responsible host. Know the people who are attending your party and whether they can legally drink. Keep an eye on your party and on how much alcohol is being consumed. Make sure that intoxicated guests don’t get behind the wheel of a car. Regardless of the potential for civil liability—or even criminal liability, which is a separate issue—you can make sure that your parties and the memories surrounding them are fun.