California is one state that does not have a “social host liability” law per se. This means that, on the surface, you cannot be held liable if you serve drinks in your home and one of your guests leaves and causes an accident. However, that does not mean that you cannot be held liable under other statutes or that you have no responsibility to your guests.
What Is Social Host Liability?
Some states have instituted social host liability law. Under these laws, private citizens can be held responsible for serving alcohol to guests who are later involved in a car accident or other liability incident. However, California law does not hold hosts accountable for these actions.
However, there are two ways private citizens in California can be held criminally liable for drinking-related injuries: if they serve alcohol to minors or knowingly induce an already-drunk person to drink more and then allow him or her to drive.
Serving Alcohol to Minors
It is illegal in California to buy alcohol for anyone under the age of 21 year or to serve a minor alcohol in any form. Anyone hosting a party has a duty to monitor any young people at the event and ensure that alcohol is not available to them.
Anyone who allows a minor to drink alcohol may be arrested, fined $1,000 or more per offense and sentenced to six months in prison per offense.
Serving Alcohol to Obviously Drunk Guests
In some cases, serving alcohol to someone who is obviously drunk can be a crime. While these cases are not as common as those of serving alcohol to minors, authorities may be motivated to arrest a person who serves alcohol to a drunk adult, especially if they then encourage the adult to engage in behavior he or she otherwise would not have done.
How Can I Prevent Social Host Liability Situations?
Even though California does not allow homeowners to be sued for serving alcohol, there can be other consequences to this action. Besides criminal charges, hosts have an ethical responsibility to keep their guests safe. No one wants to be responsible for another person’s injuries when following some simple rules would prevent the person from being hurt.
Here are some ways you can keep your guests safe and enjoy alcohol at parties without worrying about injuries:
- Never serve alcohol to minors. In fact, if minors are involved in a party, it is a good idea to serve only non-alcoholic beverages. Even if the minors plan to stay at home rather than drive, it is still illegal to offer them any type of alcohol beverage.
- Encourage responsible drinking behavior. Some hosts have guests place their car keys into a bowl or basket when they arrive. This allows the host to make an assessment as to whether the person in question is sober enough to drive.
- Offer options to inebriated guests. Sometimes it is best to let guests sleep it off at your home. Other times it may pay to keep a designated driver handy to take guests to their own homes. You can also call a taxi if necessary to take guests home safely.