Social Host Liability - What it does and should mean for you

Sep 15 2016

These days when you are hosting a party, you are responsible for far more than making sure your guests have a good time.  The social host law, passed by the New Jersey legislature in 1987, says that if one of your guests consumes too much alcohol and injures someone in a car accident after the party, the injured person can recover damages from you.  In some ways, the social host law runs counter to our natural impulse to please our guests. As hosts, we want to be generous; we want to have more than enough food and drink on hand, so that our friends will want for nothing. 


But what is the social host law? Here are some questions and answers regarding.

Q. When is the host at risk? 


Serving alcohol to a guest who is visibly intoxicated is the most common way to put yourself at risk. But you must also guard against serving a guest enough alcohol to raise a concern that he or she is over the legal limit to drive a car. If your guest is visibly intoxicated, and you know that this guest is going to drive, yet do nothing to reduce the risk he or she creates, you may be liable.

Q. Who can sue? 


Under the law, only an innocent third party who is injured by the intoxicated guest may sue the host. The law disqualifies any guest who is old enough to buy and drink alcohol from recovering damages from the host, even if he or she is injured. But an underage guest may sue the host if that minor was negligently served alcohol and subsequently injured in a car accident.

Q. Under what circumstances can a host be sued? 


A host may be sued by the third party only if that person was injured as a result of the intoxicated guest’s negligent use of an automobile. The social host law shows the state’s determination to reduce the number of alcohol-related car accidents. In fact, it brings this campaign right into your home.

Q. How can I protect myself? 


The law does not provide any guidance as to how to protect yourself from liability in situations where you may have guests in your home. You can’t watch everybody all of the time -- and if you try to, you won’t have much fun.

So use common sense. Ask trusted friends and family members to help you keep an eye on things, especially if some of your guests are friends of friends. If it does not appear that someone has had too much, see if another guest will drive him or her home, or consider calling a cab.

And be sure you are covered -- many homeowners and tenants policies provide coverage for a host who is accused of serving a guest too much. Review your policy with your attorney or your insurance agent to be sure your coverage is up to par. Knowing the ins and outs of the social host law can help you prevent your party from turning into a more costly affair than you ever intended.