Social hosts are the hosts of parties where alcohol is served. In many states, hosts can be held responsible if their guests go on to cause a DUI or other alcohol-related damages. In California, however, a social host is only liable if they gave alcohol to someone under 21.
“Social host” is just a legal term for someone who hosts a party, typically in their own home. Since many parties involve alcohol, being a host raises questions of responsibility in the event that a guest becomes intoxicated and causes problems or breaks the law, such as a DUI. Every state deals with this problem differently.
In many states, social hosts have a responsibility not to “over-serve” their guests or provide alcohol to someone who is obviously already drunk. If they do so anyway, then they share liability for the consequences of the impaired person’s behavior. This used to be the law in California as well, but the state has since changed its approach so that social hosts have very little liability. This is set forward by California Civil Code section 1714, which basically says:
- Simply providing alcohol to someone is not a direct cause of any alcohol-related injuries or damages. It’s the act of consuming the alcohol that is the cause.
- Therefore, in most situations, it is the person who imbibed the alcohol that is responsible for the outcome. The host that provided it is not usually liable.
- There is one key exception, however: underage guests. If an adult provides alcohol to someone under the age of 21, that adult is liable for injuries or damages such as DUI. This is true even if the adult is their parent or guardian.
This last rule applies only to adults who provide alcohol to minors. If the host of a party is a 17 year old, for example, and they provide alcohol to their teenage friends, they may not be held liable because they are not an adult. However, the alcohol had to come from somewhere—typically a business that didn’t check ID, or a parent who left alcohol unsecured—and this adult could potentially face consequences.
These “social host” rules are identical to the rules for dram shops, or businesses that sell alcohol.
How does California’s social host law affect my DUI case?
Social host rules do not directly affect your DUI, at least not your criminal defense. If you have been arrested and charged with DUI, it does not matter who provided you with alcohol (or how old you are)—it is you, not them, who will potentially face jail time, license suspension, and other DUI penalties.
But the social host issue does affect liability in a civil lawsuit related to DUI. For example, if you caused a DUI accident and the victim is suing you for their medical costs, then the social host rules suddenly become very important. In that situation, if you are under 21 (or were at the time of the accident), then the adult who provided you with alcohol may have to share the costs.
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