With summer coming up, clients should be reminded that they could be liable for accidents that occur both at and after their backyard BBQ’s and parties. In New Jersey, this is known as “social host liability”. In some cases, a party host could even be convicted of a crime for irresponsibly serving and over-serving alcohol at parties. This is due to the fact that every year countless people are hurt in accidents involving alcohol at summer parties.
In New Jersey, a social host who serves alcohol to friends and party guests at their home has a duty to avoid over consumption. But this is not the same duty as a bartender would have. Clearly, a bartender is in a different position than a social host, and the bar/tavern industry is strictly regulated by New Jersey law. A bartender would physically hand a drink to a patron, and could be liable if the patron was visibly intoxicated. The bartender would have a duty to physically monitor the patrons. With a party at one’s home, the host does not necessarily have a duty to physically monitor every party guest, but that does not mean that the social host is exempt from acting responsibly. Social hosts cannot simply provide endless supplies of alcohol to visibly intoxicated guests. Their duty is lower than a bartender’s duty, but they still have the obligation to act responsibly, as a reasonably prudent would act in like circumstances. If the social host had no reason to know that a guest was over-consuming, then they will not be liable. But if they had reason to know, and the guest injures someone (say, in a drunk-driving accident) then the social host may be liable.
A social host may also be criminally culpable for irresponsibly serving alcohol at parties. Serving alcohol to minors is a crime (unless the minor is your own child or you have permission from the parents). Allowing an intoxicated guest to use your car is a serious traffic violation. In extreme cases, where there is heavy over-consumption with alcohol poisoning involved, the party host could be criminally charged for charges as serious as manslaughter.
Clients are reminded to keep these things in mind as we approach the summer months. Enjoy your weekend and holiday BBQ’s and parties, but please do so responsibly.