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Hosting a New Year’s Eve Party? What is Social Host Liability?

Updated: Nov 29, 2022

In many states, social hosts can be held liable for serving alcohol to people who ultimately injure or kill others due to their intoxication. Pennsylvania’s law on this issue is more complicated.

Under Pennsylvania’s alcohol laws, only establishments licensed to serve alcohol, like most bars and many restaurants, are responsible for the actions of patrons who go on to hurt other people. Even in those cases, liability is restricted. Injured parties may be able to secure compensation, but only if they can prove that the licensed establishment continued serving alcohol to a “visibly-intoxicated” person.

Social Host Liability

Private social hosts (that’s you if you are hosting a party in your home) can only be held accountable for injuries caused by people under the age of 21, Pennsylvania’s legal drinking age. To date, the state’s courts have been unwilling to pass liability on to social hosts who serve alcohol to people over 21, even when they were visibly intoxicated at the time. One exception to this general rule is if the host is providing alcohol for a price - charging a fee or asking for a monetary donation could dramatically increase your host liability (as well as violate a variety of liquor license laws prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages.)

Social Host Liability Requires “Knowing” Service

But Pennsylvania’s social host laws are even more limited than that. Social hosts can only be held accountable if they knowingly furnish alcohol to a minor. Let’s say you have a party one night, and your 19-year-old son is present. If he takes some of the alcohol that you are serving without your knowledge and then gets into a car accident later on, it is highly unlikely that you would be held accountable for any injuries, no matter how severe. If you handed him a beer, on the other hand, you could be on the hook for his actions.

You may be inclined to allow your underage children to host friends and serve them alcohol thinking that it is safer if you at least know where they are. Although we cannot encourage underage drinking, you are still “hosting” the party, so you will need to be aware of whether your child is knowingly furnishing alcohol to a minor. The test for determining whether a social host is civilly liable for injuries sustained by a minor as a result of consuming alcohol is whether the host intentionally rendered substantial assistance to the minor in his or her consumption of the alcohol, not whether the host actually and physically served the alcohol to the minor.

Plan for Guests’ Safety

The primary risk of danger that arises from hosting a party is that a guest drinks, drives and causes an accident. On average, driving accidents rise during the holidays, so it is crucial that your guests have a safe ride on a night when so many people are out and about. You will want to be sure that your guests who have been drinking get a ride from a designated sober driver or call an Uber. You might even consider hiring a driver for the evening to provide people a way to get home.

Make a Plan With Your Kids

Set a reasonable curfew with your kids for their New Year’s Eve festivities. If they are old enough to drive, be sure they understand the dangers of driving on the holiday. Encourage them to stay in one location instead of hopping from party to party.

Fiffik Law Group represents victims of drunk driving accidents. Our attorneys are dedicated to providing clients and their families with passionate representation in court. We use every available resource at our disposal to get maximum compensation for our clients at trial or in a settlement. Nothing is more important to us than our clients. From the moment you contact our office, you are treated with the personal attention and respect you deserve. Contact us for a free consultation about your case.

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