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As the Christmas and New Year’s holiday season approaches, I felt it was a good time for a refresher examination of the social host liability laws in the State of California.  As it applies to alcohol related issues, the following is an update of the current state of the law in California.

In 2017, the California Supreme Court ruled unanimously that party hosts (social hosts), can be held liable when knowingly serving alcohol to a minor, and thereafter, the underage drinker causes arm to himself/herself or others.  A social host is defined as any person who knowingly allows the possession or consumption of alcohol by underage drinkers on property that he/she owns, leases, or otherwise controls.

As to adult consumers of alcohol in California, a third party (either a social host/bartender or other person in a similar capacity) is generally not civilly liable for serving an overly intoxicated person, unless that person is a minor.  If the person is an adult, and should that individual be charged with driving under the influence and attempt thereafter to sue an individual, such as the social host or bartender, it is highly unlikely that the drunk driver would prevail in a civil litigation, as it was the drunk driver who willingly consumed the alcohol, willingly drove a vehicle, and was not forced to do either.

Each state is different when it comes to potential civil liability against vendors or social hosts who provide alcohol to others.  Here in California, the liability to third parties is significantly diminished. The general theory against liability is that it is not the furnishing of the alcoholic beverage that is the cause of the injury, but the consumption of the alcoholic beverage that is the cause!

Other than the situations described herein involving minors, such as knowingly providing alcohol to the minor, or serving, selling, or otherwise providing alcohol to the “obviously intoxicated minor,” there is generally no civil liability to the social host in the State of California.

Please be aware of the issues of liability for the consumption and furnishing of alcohol during these holidays and at all times thereafter.  Should any issues in these areas arise, the attorneys at Heiting & Irwin are available to discuss any potential liability or assist with legal issues related thereto.

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