What is Social Host Liability, and can you get in trouble if your guest gets in a drunk driving accident on New Year's Eve?

Your New Year’s Eve party was a success, champagne toasts and all. However, now the party is winding down and your guests begin to leave. At this time, if you haven’t planned what you would do if one of your guests drinks too much, you may be held responsible if that guest causes an accident and hurts themselves or others. Every year, New Year’s Eve sees a spike in drunk driving-related accidents, and in social host liability claims. So if you’re planning to host a party this New Year’s Eve, it’s important to consider the potential liability of providing guests with alcohol, and how to avoid being held liable for someone else’s negligent drunk driving.

What is Social Host Liability?

Social host liability is the legal term for the criminal and civil responsibility of a person who provides liquor to a guest who injures themselves or others. Social host laws differ from state to state because some focus primarily on the legal ramifications of providing alcohol to guests who are minors, while others extend liability to guests of all ages. Some states, like Wisconsin, also have what are known as dram shop laws, which can extend social host liability to bars, restaurants, liquor stores and other businesses for their roles in supplying alcohol.

It is not uncommon for hosts to be found liable for negligence in cases where they knew (or should have known) a guest intended to drive while under the influence. Social host laws may limit liability to injuries that occur on your property or, depending on the state, they may extend liability to injuries that occur anywhere a guest who has consumed alcohol goes, such as those sustained in a drunk driving accident after leaving a party. Regardless of the circumstances, you should take great care to be sure that while in your home, your guests drink responsibly and that no minors are served.

If you’re concerned about keeping your guests safe at your New Year’s Eve party, consider some of these tips to reduce the likelihood of a dangerous accident:

  • Supply plenty of food and non-alcoholic beverages for your guests. Food helps slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream.
  • Hire or designate a bartender. Bartenders will be able to regulate the amount of alcohol served and make sure only guests over 21 are served.
  • Provide alternative transportation options. Designate sober drivers willing to take intoxicated guests home, and keep information for cabs or ride-share services handy for anyone in need.
  • Stay sober so you can see your guests leave safely, and do everything you can to prevent a guest from driving drunk.
  • Know the social host liability laws for your state, and prepare appropriately to prevent an accident. In Wisconsin, social host liability and dram shop liability apply only when an intoxicated minor causes injury or death in a car accident.

Even if the state you live in doesn’t recognize social host liability, it is still the responsibility of every good host to make sure all guests return home safely and that no minors are served. As long as you do everything in your power to prevent your guests from overdoing it at your New Year’s Eve party, you should be safe from liability in the event of an accident or injury.

However, in the event that you or a loved one are injured due to the actions of a negligent host, or a negligent drunk driver, you should contact an experienced personal injury attorney at Hupy and Abraham. Call 800-800-5678 for a free consultation, or start a live chat with us anytime at Hupy.com.
Jill Erin Wellskopf
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Director of Marketing, Hupy and Abraham