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Host Liability: The Dangers of Over-Serving Alcohol

Did you know that as a social host, you have an obligation to act responsibly when serving alcohol to your guests? Much like the way a bartender may be held liable for over-serving someone who then drives intoxicated, the host of a house party is similarly responsible when providing party-goers with alcohol. Whether the host serves someone too much alcohol or serves alcohol to minors who have not yet reached the legal drinking age, the resulting legal repercussions can be severe.

Host liability laws can apply to anyone responsible for the property where the alcohol was served. This includes homeowners, property renters, or someone else providing alcohol to guests. Not all states enforce social host liability laws, and some only apply when a host serves alcohol to minors. In New Mexico, however, it is possible for a host to be held liable in any instance where he or she provides alcohol recklessly and in disregard of the rights of others. If an injury takes place as a result of alcohol consumption provided by the host, the problem may be worse.

If someone is harmed by an intoxicated guest, the host who provided alcohol to that guest may be held liable for the injury. Additionally, if the injury took place on the host's property he or she may also face a premises liability lawsuit.

There are 2 different types of social host liability cases: first party social host liability, and third party liability. In a first party liability case, the injured person was the person who received alcohol from the host. In a third party liability case, the injured person was injured by the intoxicated person the host served alcohol to. For example, if a guest becomes intoxicated and falls down the stairs at a house party, it would be a first party social host liability case. Or, if a person is hit by a drunk driver who was served alcohol at a house party, the person struck by the drunk driver may have a third party social host liability case against the person who provided the alcohol.

Proving liability in a social host liability case can be somewhat tricky and depends on the circumstances of the case at hand. Liability may be proven based on negligence, recklessness, or intentional conduct. Where there is negligence, the host would have acted carelessly and without regard for the safety of the guests. In a situation where the host is consciously aware of and chooses to ignore, a substantial risk they act recklessly. A reckless host might ignore signs that a person is dangerously intoxicated, offering additional alcoholic beverages regardless of the potential risk to their safety and the safety of others.

Intentional conduct is another factor in proving liability, though it also varies by state. In many circumstances, a social host may escape responsibility for providing alcohol to injured persons if he or she was unaware of the potential risk. That is to say, if the host was unaware the person they were serving was under the age of 21 or did not realize the guest was already very intoxicated, they may not have acted intentionally. In this way, there was no intentional conduct, and the host would not be held liable for the resulting injuries. However, it could also be argued that the host should have realized the person they served alcohol to was a minor, or that they were drunk.

Contact Berenson & Associates, P.C. if you were injured as the result of a negligent or reckless social host.

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