If someone gets drunk at a party I hosted am I liable for injuries they cause to themselves or others?
Many people are unaware that hosting a private party and serving alcohol can open you up to all sorts of liability. New Jersey is one of several states with “social host liability” laws on the books, meaning a social host can be found responsible for harm caused by their intoxicated guests.
Social host liability laws are an extension of dram shop laws, also known as liquor liability laws. These statutes hold bars, taverns, restaurants, and other alcohol-serving establishments responsible for injuries incurred by drunk patrons. Dram shop laws boil down to this: servers are not allowed to serve alcohol to visibly drunk patrons, and if they do, they could be held liable for the injuries the drunk person causes someone else. New Jersey’s dram shop law is found in Section 2A:22A-4 of the Revised Statutes. Under New Jersey law, a licensed alcohol server is negligent only if he or she serves a “visibly intoxicated” patron, meaning the customer is in “a state of intoxication accompanied by a perceptible act or series of acts which present clear signs of intoxication.”
Certain states, including the state of New Jersey, extend these dram shop laws to social hosts at private parties. In other words, if someone throws a birthday party and over-serves a guest, who then gets behind the wheel and causes a car accident, the host of the party could be found liable for the other driver’s injuries. Social host liability laws typically don’t allow the intoxicated guest to file suit; rather, a third-party who is injured (as a result of the drunk guest) has the right to file a personal injury suit against the social host.
Social host liability also applies to serving minors. In many states, minors are the only ones allowed to file first-party dram shop lawsuits; in other words, if they are served at a bar or private party and injure themselves as a result, they could file suit against the establishment or social host. (Among those over 21, only third-parties can file a social host/liquor liability suit—not the drunk person him or herself.)
Social host liability laws can be tough on a social host. For example, the host does not have to physically serve the alcohol to the guest to be liable for the damage caused. Even if guests serve themselves at the party, New Jersey law says the host is still responsible for ensuring no one becomes overly intoxicated. Plus, the guest does not have to be visibly intoxicated in front of the host in order for the host to be liable. If the drinks were provided “under circumstances manifesting reckless disregard of the consequences” to someone else, creating an “unreasonable risk” of harm to life and property, the host could be liable for injuries.
Someone injured by an intoxicated party guest could be entitled to compensatory damages. Compensatory damages in a personal injury case can include compensation for:
- Medical expenses
- Future anticipated medical care
- Lost wages
- Decreased future earning potential
- Property damage
- Pain and suffering
To receive more specific information to your case or situation, call us. We’ll be happy to answer all your questions and help in any way we can. Initial consultation is free, call us at (201) 585-9111 or email us through our website. You can find the email form on the right sidebar of every page.