What is, if any, the civil liability of a social host for serving alcohol when a guest hurts themselves and/or others while intoxicated?

By David Hakimfar

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “gay” as being “keenly alive and exuberant: having or inducing high spirits.” The community proudly lives up to that with the profusion of social gatherings throughout the world.

Time after time, friends and clients have inquired to my office regarding the risks and potential liability of serving alcohol at social gatherings in their home. And that is what I am here to answer: What is, if any, the civil liability of a social host for serving alcohol when a guest hurts themselves and/or others while intoxicated?

Generally, California Law provides civil immunity to social hosts who serve alcohol. This means that one may not be compelled to pay damages if an intoxicated guest leaves and causes an accident.

HOWEVER, California law recently removed some previously afforded immunity to social hosts after a Redding, California couple spearheaded California Assembly Bill (AB) Number 2486 (The Teen Alcohol Safety Act) upon the death of their daughter which resulted from alcohol poisoning at a friend’s house. Prior to AB 2486, which was being enacted on January 1, 2011, a social host who furnished alcoholic beverages to any person could not have been held civilly liable for damages suffered or caused by that person. And now, California Law allows civil claims against adults who:

  1. knowingly furnish alcoholic beverages at their residence to a person under 21 years of age, and
  2. the resulting damages to the person who was served the alcohol or to other persons is caused by the furnishing of such alcoholic beverages.

So now that you can enjoy your party and your guests while being educated on the issue of “social host liability,” always remember to make the following right moves:

  • Never condone or allow minors to be served alcohol;
  • Encourage guests to designate a sober driver, use public transportation, or drink responsibly;
  • Instruct hired professional bartenders to refuse service of alcohol to those too intoxicated; and
  • Take keys away from those who are intoxicated and let them stay in your home overnight.

As a trial attorney concerned about the safety of all people and roadways, I am optimistic that AB 2486 will prevent at least some of the tragic and unnecessary deaths related to alcohol consumption.

David Hakimfar is a Trial Attorney and Senior Partner of Hakimfar Law, PLC, located in West Hollywood, and a member-attorney of Pride Legal. You can reach him at 310-730-1250, or through Pride Legal at 888-789-7743.