Tis’ the Season for Social Host Liability in California

Tis’ the Season for Social Host Liability in California

With the Holiday season approaching, many underage adults will attend Holiday parties at their parents’ home or the homes of friends or family. Those who host parties are deemed “social hosts.” In general, social hosts are immune from personal injury liability, except for one huge caveat.

California Civil Code Section 1714(c) states: except as provided in subdivision (d), no social host who furnishes alcoholic beverages to any person may be held legally accountable for damages suffered by that person, or for injury to the person or property of, or death of, any third person, resulting from the consumption of those beverages.

California Civil Code Section 1714(d)(1), which defines the social host exception, states: Nothing in subdivision (c) shall preclude a claim against a parent, guardian, or another adult who knowingly furnishes alcoholic beverages at his or her residence to a person who he or she knows, or should have known, to be under 21 years of age, in which case, notwithstanding subdivision (b), the furnishing of the alcoholic beverage may be found to be the proximate cause of resulting injuries or death.

A claim under California Civil Code Section 1714(d)(1) may be brought by, or on behalf of, the person under 21 years of age or by a person who was harmed by the person under 21 years of age. In other words, adults can be held liable for injuries caused by their underage guests.

Furnishing of alcohol is a broad standard. To “furnish” alcohol is to make it available. This broad definition imputes liability to a social host who makes their alcohol available in any capacity. This includes an unlocked liquor cabinet, unsecured beer keg, or refrigerator.

When a claim is filed against an insured social host, the social host’s homeowners insurance company will step in to defend the claim. The duty to preserve evidence is vital to the defense of the social host. This evidence includes the date of the event, a list of attendees, the location of where alcohol was stored, and the type of alcohol at the event. Additionally, with today’s modern technology, many homes have some type of surveillance recording system. These systems can be extremely helpful when pointed at the location of alcohol to ensure underage minors do not have access. These systems can also show whether an underage minor accessed secured alcohol, which would help in the defense of the social host.

The Takeaway

It is vital social hosts be aware of potential liability when hosting any sort of party. If underage minors will be present at a party, the social host should keep all alcohol secured. Social hosts should also advise their of age guests to help assist in ensuring all alcohol is secured. You may come across as the “grinch” or “scourge” of the party by being so deliberate in ensuring underage guests do not have access to alcohol. However, it is much better to be known as a “grinch” than is it for an underage intoxicated minor to leave your event and thereinafter cause injury. In the unfortunate event an underage minor consumes alcohol at a social host’s event and thereinafter causes injury, the social host should immediately advise their homeowners insurance company.

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