Hosting a party is a lot of fun. In many cases, you'll serve alcohol to your guests as a way of celebrating and relaxing. This is all well and good during the party, but what if someone leaves your party, causes an accident, and gets a DUI on the way home? Is this your fault? Can you be held liable in court for their actions? That depends on the circumstances and where you are located. Here's a closer look.
Different States Have Different Laws
Laws that regulate the responsibility of the host in regard to a DUI are known as social host laws. They do not exist in every state. Alaska, Arkansas, South Carolina, New Jersey, and Missouri are examples of states with social host laws. Other states do not have any social host laws—in other words, there can be zero liability placed on the host for anything their guests do after leaving the premises. These states include New York, California, Virginia, and West Virginia. And there are other states that have social host laws, but they are only applicable if the guest is a minor. These states include Kansas, Illinois, and Alabama.
Negligence Must Be Demonstrated
Just because your state has social host laws does not automatically mean you can be charged if your guest gets a DUI or causes other trouble while drunk after leaving your party. To be found liable, you must still be shown to have acted negligently. In other words, you must have taken an action—or failed to take an action—that a reasonable person would have taken to prevent accidents in the given circumstances.
Understanding negligence is often easier when you look at an example. For instance, if you handed your guest their keys and insisted that they drive home after you knew that had consumed six beers that night, this could be considered negligence, and you could therefore be held liable in a state with social host laws. On the other hand, if you stashed guests' keys in a spare cabinet, but your guest snuck into the cabinet to take them and go driving without your knowledge, you would not be found negligent. You took reasonable action to prevent drunk driving by hiding the keys; it's not your fault that the guest defied you and caused trouble.
Someone Must Have Been Injured
Lawsuits against a third-party host who served alcohol are civil cases, not criminal cases. If one of your guests is simply charged with a DUI and nobody becomes injured in the process, there is no liability for you to worry about. On the other hand, if they crash and cause injury to themselves or to others, you might be named liable in a personal injury lawsuit to cover medical bills, lost wages, and other costs to the injured. This civil case will be separate from any criminal charges placed on the guest who was given the DUI charges. If found liable, you will be asked to make payment to the injured party, but you will not be fined or placed in jail as you may after being charged with a DUI.
If you are ever called into court regarding a DUI case in which someone became injured after drinking at your party, hire an attorney ASAP. It's usually quite easy for an experienced attorney to prove that you were not negligent as a party host. If they can demonstrate that you took even slight action to prevent DUIs, such as inviting guests to stay overnight or serving non-alcoholic beverages alongside the alcoholic ones, they can often free you of any liability related to the accident.