Social Host Liability

If you’re planning on hosting a party this season and serving alcohol to your guests, you need to be aware of North Carolina’s “social host liability” law and how it may affect your responsibility for accidents or injuries caused by guests attending your party.  Efforts by Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other organizations created much-needed awareness surrounding drunk driving.  And while reminding guests to take sober driving precautions has become common practice for many hosts, failing to take such action can lead to tragic consequences for some, and legal nightmares for the host of the party. 

Under North Carolina’s “Social host liability” law, a person may be held responsible for damages and injury caused by their intoxicated guest if the host knew the guest was intoxicated and knew the guest would be driving after leaving the host’s gathering.  A recent opinion filed by the North Carolina Court of Appeals serves as a sober reminder of these consequences.  

In a case out of Winston-Salem, a young man attended a party thrown by his grandparents.  At the party, the man became visibly intoxicated, but despite his intoxication, he was served a few more drinks.  After having an argument with his father, the man left the party and drove home—his blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit.  Shortly after leaving, the man accidentally drove his car into a tree where it caught fire.  The man did not survive the accident.

The administrator of the young man’s estate filed a lawsuit against the man’s father and his grandparents, alleging they were negligent in serving the man alcohol after he was visibly intoxicated, and that they served him alcohol knowing he would drive home.  Although the father and grandfather were ultimately successful in defending against the lawsuit, the emotional and human toll they paid was indescribable.  A father and grandparents had to mourn the loss of their family member, while at the same time defend against a lawsuit filed by the man’s estate—an ordeal that took more than two years.

The attorneys at Weaver, Bennett & Bland want to ensure everyone has a safe and happy holiday season.  To make sure you don’t run afoul of North Carolina law, make certain that you do not continue to serve visibly intoxicated guests and that you arrange safe transportation for your guests if they become intoxicated.  These simple steps can prevent possibly tragic consequences, and they can keep you out of legal hot water.