You have probably seen stories in which a bar over-serves a customer who staggers out and injures or kills someone, typically on the drive home. The victim or their family sometimes files a “dram shop” lawsuit.
But hosting drinkers at your home can also put you in legal trouble. New Jersey’s “social host” laws say a host providing a “visibly intoxicated” person with booze may be responsible for injuries the guest causes while driving home. In such cases, though, the guest cannot make the host pay for the guest’s own injuries.
Professional networking over glasses of scotch
A 1984 decision had a big impact on New Jersey’s drunk driving laws.
A man gave his employer a ride home, where he was invited in. The two men and the employer’s wife drank scotch until, according to trial testimony, the employer walked the man out to his car and watched him drive away.
On the way home, the man’s car hit another head-on, seriously injuring the woman driving the other vehicle. His blood-alcohol level was 0.286, approaching four times today’s legal limit.
The injured woman sued the man and his host. Her victory rose to the New Jersey Supreme Court, which upheld the verdict in her favor.
High court sees adults and minors, bars and homes, as similar
Until then, only the hosts of underage drinkers were held legally responsible for such accidents. It did not matter if the underage drinkers drank in someone’s home or a bar, the server was responsible.
In the 1984 case, the state Supreme Court pointed out that making a profit from the sale was not the issue since then-current law drew no line between saloons and parties.
No matter who did the serving or the drinking, “the provider has a duty to the public not to create foreseeable, unreasonable risks.” The decision opened the doors both for New Jersey’s modern “dram shop” and “social host” laws.