by Bernard D. Nomberg, Partner, The Nomberg Law Firm
SOCIAL HOST LIABILITY: Know the Law and How it Could Affect You
With the holidays and abundance of holiday parties right around the corner, social hosts need to be aware of how the law affects them when hosting a party, particularly when serving alcohol to their guests. When serving alcohol to house guests, Alabama has specific laws that must be abided by. Ironically, these laws tend to go unnoticed and unknown until it is too late.
Social Host Civil Liability (Ala. Code §6-5-70)
Either parent of a minor, guardian, or a person standing in loco parentis to the minor having neither father nor mother shall have a right of action against any person who unlawfully sells or furnishes spirituous liquors to such minor and may recover such damages as the jury may assess, provided the person selling or furnishing liquor to the minor had knowledge of or was chargeable with notice or knowledge of such minority.
Alabama has a series of laws commonly known as the “dram shop laws” which hold an individual responsible for giving alcohol to one who ultimately causes harm. The Alabama Dram Shop Act creates a civil remedy, against those who provided another person with alcoholic beverages, particularly providing alcohol to someone who injuries a third party due to their intoxication. These laws were intended to encourage social hosts not to serve alcohol to guests who are already visibly intoxicated.
If a guest at your party was visibly intoxicated and got in a wreck on their way home, you could be sued in a personal injury suit. You could be financially liable to pay for someone’s serious personal injuries or death.
Social hosts are typically not aware of the laws governing minors drinking on their premises. Many people assume that if you are in your private home, the age of the individual does not matter when serving alcohol. However,
Alabama law states that anyone under 21 years old cannot consume an alcoholic beverage, under any circumstance, even in a private home or with parental permission. Ala. Code. § 28-1-5.
For example, if a host provides a minor with alcohol, who ultimately gets in a wreck due to their intoxication on the way home, causing injuries to a third party, the social host will be liable. Additionally, the parents or child of the intoxicated minor can bring a claim against the homeowners who provided the alcohol, regardless if a wreck or injuries occur. All of this goes to show how critical it is for an adult host not to serve alcohol to a minor. The host will be liable on several levels, even if no injuries were involved.
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Potential Criminal Consequences
What many adults don’t think about is the criminal consequences that can follow, when serving a minor alcohol. In Alabama, it is a crime to allow anyone under the age of 21 to drink alcohol on their property. Based upon the Alabama Open House Party law (Ala. Code §13A-11-10.1), it is unlawful for an adult who is aware of the party to allow a party to continue if alcoholic beverages are possessed or consumed by people under 21 on their property, the adult knows that people under the age of 21 are consuming alcoholic beverages, and the adult fails to take action to prevent the illegal consumption. An adult host who violates this law could be criminally charged with a misdemeanor.
As a host and homeowner, the responsibility is on you to ensure you are doing what you can to prevent any injuries to your guests when hosting a party with alcohol. Alcohol related accidents occur far too often. To reduce any potential liability, make sure you are not serving alcohol to anyone under 21. Stop serving when someone appears to be impaired. Do not let your guests drive home if they are visibly intoxicated, as you will be liable for their actions. Uber, Lyft or designated drivers should be considered as well.
If you have questions about whether a company employee who is injured at a company holiday party can pursue a workers’ compensation claim, well you are in luck because we have an article about that too.
Following these common sense guidelines should allow for you, your family and guests to enjoy the holidays and to keep safe. Happy Holidays!
Bernard D. Nomberg has been a lawyer for more than 20 years. Bernard has earned an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell’s peer-review rating. He has been selected a Super Lawyer by Super Lawyers Magazine as well as a Top Lawyer by B-Metro Magazine. Bernard is the immediate past Chair of the Alabama State Bar’s Workers’ Compensation Section.