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State social host laws mean drinking guests can be legal trouble

On Behalf of | Apr 13, 2020 | DUI/Dram Shop Laws

Now more than ever, New Jersians are drinking at home or sometimes at a friend’s or relative’s place. It is the right time to remember that hosts at home, sitting quietly or asleep in bed, can be responsible in New Jersey for injuries and deaths caused by crashes happening miles away in the night. In the barroom or your living room, serving drinks comes with legal risks in New Jersey.

New Jersey high court set the stage in years past

There was a time when, no matter if they were barkeepers or hosts of house parties, New Jersians were not liable for serving drinks to people who went on to hurt others, unless the drinker was underage. Courts had okayed this rule.

But in 1984, New Jersey’s Supreme Court heard a case in which a man of legal drinking age drank a lot of scotch a coworker served him in the coworker’s living room. On his drive home, the man seriously injured another driver.

In their decision, they pointed out, among other observations, that the previous underage rule did not draw a line between home or barroom. So, making a profit from serving kids was not the main issue of Jersey’s law, just as the new case was not about making a profit from serving adults. Overserving a drinker was the issue.

The ruling opened the door for many newer laws and court decisions. Modern New Jersey law says, of age or underage, at home or in a bar, the law may hold you liable if overserving someone leads to their doing damage.

New Jersey social host laws make many fine distinctions

Knowing exactly who can hold a social host liable and for what can depend on many details, some of which appear in state law and others come from court cases.

You can be sure that the state allows someone injured by an overserved house guest to at least try to sue the social host. The host does not have to buy the liquor or even “serve” it, but as the host, they may be responsible.

Of course, in the name of being reasonable, the law leaves some gaps for exceptions. The host might be responsible if the host was able to see the person looked intoxicated or made the alcohol available in a very careless and irresponsible way. Also, the situation created had to unreasonably risky and had to result in a crash caused by a guest.

These cases can be deeply serious, tragic, costly and complex, and defendants should find representation by a qualified attorney.