Drunk driver accidents can be devasting. Say you host a party at your home. You serve your guests alcoholic beverages. One of your guests leaves the party intoxicated. He drives home and has an accident en route. He injures an innocent third party. Can that third party sue you for her injuries?
Under New Jersey Law, a “social host” is someone who invites others onto his property for purposes of hospitality. Therefore, by holding a party, dinner or other social event at your home, you became, legally speaking, a social host. (Incidentally, a holder of a liquor license, such as a bar, tavern or restaurant, is not a social host. There is a special law that governs such a business’s legal liability for harm caused by drunk driver patrons.)
When a Social Host is Liable for a Drunk Driver Accident
A social host is generally not liable to any guest to whom that social host has provided alcohol for injuries caused by the guest’s intoxication. Nonetheless, a social host may sometimes be responsible for injuries that intoxicated guests inflict on third parties.
A third party hurt by a social host’s intoxicated guest may sue the host only if the host willingly and knowingly furnished alcohol to the guest even though the guest was visibly intoxicated in the social host’s presence.
The third party can also sue if the host willfully and knowingly gave alcohol to someone visibly drunk “under circumstances manifesting reckless disregard of the consequences as affecting the life and property of another.”
To recover compensation, the victim must prove that the social host provided alcohol to the “visibly intoxicated person under circumstances which created unreasonable risk of foreseeable harm to … another, and [that] the …host failed to exercise reasonable care … to avoid the … risk.”
Moreover, third-party victims can only sue for injuries caused by the guest’s negligent operation of a vehicle. Other types of accidents are not compensable.
The above rules limit the liability of social hosts only where the guest in question is over 21 years of age. In other words, the limitations of social host liability won’t apply if the host serves alcohol to someone under the legal age of 21.
Liability if Host Serves Underage Guests
Finally, despite the social host law, social hosts can be held liable for conduct not related solely to the service of alcohol to their guests. For example, if a host allows a visibly intoxicated guest to handle the host’s loaded gun, or drive the host’s car, the host may be responsible for resulting injuries to third parties.
Accordingly, if you were an accident victim of a drunk driver, you may have a claim against whoever served him the alcohol.