Can a party host be sued if a guest causes a drunk driving accident?

Question:

Can a party host be sued if a guest causes a drunk driving accident?

Answer:

The answer to this question touches on a legal doctrine that is commonly referred to as “social host liability.” In plain English, that means situations where someone invite guests over to their home for a party or some other social purpose, alcohol is served, and then one of the guests becomes intoxicated and ends up causing a drunk driving accident or some other mishap (a car doesn’t even need to be involved).

In that situation, the person who hosted the party may be on the legal hook for injuries and other losses that result from the accident, even though someone else’s conduct was the direct cause.

It’s important to note that social host liability is not recognized in many states. In fact, some states have passed laws specifically shielding a social host from liability when a guest’s intoxication causes an accident. And even in states that have passed statutes that allow an injured person to bring a civil lawsuit against a social host, liability may only be possible if the host somehow broke a law by serving alcohol the guest was under 21, for example.

Having said all that, a few states have fairly liberal social host liability rules, and in those jurisdictions all that may be required in order to trigger liability is for the social host to be aware that a guest is intoxicated. It really comes down to the specific language of the state’s law.

An injury-related lawsuit against a social host after a drunk driving accident would proceed in much the same way as any car accident lawsuit might. The injured person would be entitled to seek damages from the host, including the cost of any medical treatment necessitated by the accident, reimbursement of lost income, and non-economic losses like pain and suffering.

Don’t forget that a lawsuit against a social host is essentially a claim against a third party. If you’re injured by a drunk driver, you always have the option of pursuing an injury claim directly against that person.

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