During the summer months it is likely we will either host or attend a party “down the shore,” across the river from the city, or somewhere else in the Garden State.  These day-time or evening parties often involve alcohol being served and are usually safe and a lot of fun for everyone involved. However, there are times in the State of New Jersey when the hosts of these parties may be held liable for damages caused by their guests after they consumed alcohol at the party and subsequently caused damage to third persons or other property. This is known as social host liability.

The State of New Jersey defines a social host as “a person who, by express or implied invitation, invites another person onto an unlicensed premises for purposes of hospitality” and who neither holds nor is required to hold a liquor license to legally provide alcohol at their party. The hosts; usually our friends, our families, or ourselves, fall into this category of “social host” under New Jersey law. These hosts can run into major legal problems and are potentially liable to third persons that suffered injuries and/or damages that were caused by guests from the party.

Under N.J.S.A § 2A:16-5.6, “a person who sustains bodily injury or injury to real or personal property as a result of the negligent provision of alcoholic beverages by a social host” to a guest that can legally buy and consume alcohol can recover damages from the social host of the party if the social host willfully and knowingly provided alcoholic beverages either:

  • To a person who was visibly intoxicated in the social host’s presence; or
  • To a person who was visibly intoxicated under the circumstances manifesting reckless disregard of the consequences as affecting the life or property of another; and
  • The social host served alcohol to the visibly intoxicated guest that created an unreasonable risk of foreseeable harm to the life or property of another, and the social host failed to exercise reasonable care and diligence to avoid the foreseeable risk; and
  • The injury arose out of an accident caused by the negligent operation of a vehicle by the visibly intoxicated guest that was served alcohol by the social host

Through the years the New Jersey courts and legislature have developed this body of law, primarily, because in the past those injured by drunk drivers often had no civil remedy or very limited options at best. Today, those injured by drunk drivers whom left a private residence or other party put on by a social host, may recover against the social host. For social hosts to be found liable, a trier of fact such as a jury, must determine that the social host’s negligent service of alcohol to a visibly intoxicated guest was the proximate cause of the third person’s injuries or damage suffered. This means social hosts have a duty to prevent unreasonable and foreseeable risks by refraining from serving their visibly intoxicated guests when they know or have reason to know the guest is likely to drive a car at a later time. The social host need not even directly hand the guest any alcohol, but they may be held liable for simply making the alcohol accessible to the visibly intoxicated guests to serve themselves. 

Closely related, social hosts whom serve or make alcohol accessible to a visibly intoxicated minor, knowing or having reason to know that the minor would drive thereafter , could be held liable for the minor’s negligence which caused injury to a third party or the minor himself. Causation is still needed, but this means social hosts can be liable for the physical injury or property damage caused by minors to third persons when the damage was proximately caused by the minor’s unlawful drinking of alcohol at the residence of the social host. In this scenario where a social host served or made alcohol accessible to a visibly intoxicated minor who caused damage to an innocent third party would be liable to the third party as well as directly liable to the minor. This is the difference codified by the New Jersey legislature: “No social host may be held liable to a person who has attained the legal age to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages for damages suffered as a result of the social host’s negligent provision of alcoholic beverages to that person.” N.J.S.A. § 2A:15-5.7. This means a social host is liable only to minors and third persons injured in automobile accidents.

Therefore, as a host of a party or event where alcohol is served, it is extremely important to pay attention to the alcoholic intake of your guests and their underage children, who should not be consumingalcohol regardless. The question comes down to this: Would you rather deal with your upset friend/family member/guest the next day because you took their keys and didn’t allowthem to leave your party or drive anywhere else, or would you rather be the cause of an innocent person’s injury or death and be liable for the damages to that family? In the scheme of things, it appears a few unpleasant moments to prevent your guests and friends from drinking and driving may save you, your family, and even your home.

If you or a loved one has been injured by an individual after they left a social engagement where they had been drinking, contact one of the dedicated attorneys of Stampone Law for a free, confidential consultation.