February 17, 2021
Jonathan J. Russell

When you are hosting a private party, should you have to worry about the amount of alcohol your guests are drinking? Are you required to “cut them off?” Of course nobody ever wants anyone to get hurt, but is it your legal responsibility as a host to pay attention to everyone’s alcohol consumption? Currently, Social Host Liability in Pennsylvania is a legal concept allowing the host of a party to be held liable when a minor becomes intoxicated and ends up causing an injury to another person. Under the law, anyone under the age of 21 is considered a minor. Social hosts in Pennsylvania are not currently responsible for the intoxication of individuals over age 21.

What is Dram Shop Liability?
Dram Shop liability applies to commercial establishments when they provide alcohol to a visibly intoxicated persons. These businesses can be held legally responsible for injuries and damages that the intoxicated person cause. Pennsylvania’s Dram Shop liability is often utilized when a drunk driver causes a car accident with serious injuries or death.

When Dram Shop liability applies, the injured party can sue for civil damages. Such damages are intended to compensate the injured person for losses suffered resulting from the accident. These damages include:
                • medical, hospital, rehabilitation, and pharmacy bills related to the injury,
                • lost wages and other compensation,
                • the value of lost future wages,
                • the value of household services and childcare
                • property damage, and
                • pain and suffering.

Should Social Host Liability be Expanded?
In the recent case of Klar v. Dairy Farmers of America, Inc., et al., The Dairy Farmers of America hosted a social event that led to a major accident. An attendee left the gathering with a blood alcohol level of .23 and was visibly intoxicated when he lost control of his car, striking a motorcycle. The accident caused a severe injury to the driver of the motorcycle as his leg had to be amputated. In this case, since the Dairy Farmers of America were deemed a Social Host, they were not considered liable as they served alcohol to only to adults.

On Appeal, the plaintiff is attempting to expand the social host liability to equal the standard for commercial establishments in a Dram Shop action. The plaintiff is claiming that since the Dairy Farmers of America charged money to attend the event where alcohol was served, then they should not be treated as social hosts. This question may shortly reach the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

A second area of potential expansion of Social Host Liability involves the question of whether a social host should be treated with the same standard as a commercial establishment. Should Pennsylvania expand Social Host Liability to this standard, then the risk of personal liability in hosting any informal party where alcohol is available will substantially increase. More individuals will be held responsible for the conduct of others in causing an accidents while intoxicated. What is a reasonable standard for social hosts to be held? Since servers at bars are trained and paid to be aware of a patron’s state of intoxication, should there be a greater expectation that they would have better judgement and understanding as to when someone has had too much to drink? Since bartenders control the flow of alcohol, are they better able than a social host to flag someone or cut them off from additional drinks? Additionally, since bars charge for their drinks they can afford to carry insurance coverage for Dram Shop claim, as the cost of doing business.

On the other hand, if Social Host Liability is expanded, the desire to host a party where alcohol is available will need to be weighed against the risk of liability for the host. Many social hosts might not want that risk, and simply decide to refrain from what otherwise was seen as an act of hospitality. Social hosts may not want to be put into a position of monitoring personal behavior and exercising control over the personal responsibilities of their guests. Regardless, whether you are a licensed bar or a friendly party host, all need to be cognizant of the high risks and dangers of driving while intoxicated. Be socially responsible. Don’t drink and drive.

Since 1985, the personal injury attorneys at Drake, Hileman & Davis, have been concerned for the safety of those in our community. Safety is no accident. We have a proven track record of results and satisfied clients. We’re ready to answer your questions and provide you with the legal help you need, when accidents happen. Contact us on-line or call us at (888) 777-7098 to schedule your free consultation in the convenience of your home or at one of our five offices located throughout the region.