Social Host Responsibilities

If you are planning to host a social gathering, whether it is to celebrate the holidays, mark a special occasion, or simply to get together with friends and family, it would benefit you to understand your legal responsibilities under New Jersey’s social host liability laws.

New Jersey has some of the most complex laws in the country governing the sale, possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages; in fact, many of these stipulations are unique to New Jersey. Some of these laws pertain to who can be held responsible for alcohol-related injuries.

Dram Shop Laws

Commercial establishments that serve alcohol are subject to the State’s dram shop laws. These laws allow a person injured as a result of the actions of an intoxicated person to file a claim against the establishment that served alcohol to that person provided:

  • ·         the intoxicated person was visibly impaired when served; or
  • ·         the server knew or should have known that the individual was under the legal drinking age.

Social Host Liability Laws

New Jersey’s social host liability laws are similar, but they pertain to individuals who provide alcohol in a private social setting. Providing alcohol, under these laws, includes making alcoholic beverages available through self-service or allowing another person to bring alcohol to the event.

Like dram shop laws, social host liability laws do not allow inebriated persons to hold the host liable for injuries they suffer from a fall, a motor vehicle accident or other incident. However, a third party injured as a result of the inebriated person’s actions can file a claim against the host for damages including:

  • ·         medical fees,
  • ·         hospital bills,
  • ·         therapy and / or rehabilitation expenses,
  • ·         lost wages,
  • ·         pain and suffering,
  • ·         property damage, and
  • ·         the value of services related to household and childcare responsibilities the person would have performed if not injured.

The injured party may also seek punitive damages from the host or the host’s insurance company. That person has two years from the date of the injury to file a social host liability lawsuit under the State’s statute of limitations.

Serving Alcohol to Minors

New Jersey’s social host liability laws also state that it is illegal for adults to knowingly allow anyone under the legal age to consume alcohol on property the adult either owns or leases. In New Jersey, as in most of the country, the legal drinking age is 21. The State law does allow for exceptions to this rule:

  • ·         persons younger than 21 can drink alcohol in connection with religious ceremonies; and
  • ·         parents or legal guardians are allowed to serve alcohol to their own children in a private setting.

The latter exception excludes friends and acquaintances of the minor child, so parents may be faced with fines and possible jail time if their children hold a party on their property and alcohol is consumed by anyone under legal age, whether or not the adult is present on the property at the time.

Adults who violate New Jersey’s social host laws can be held liable if the underage drinker is killed or injured in an accident as a result of his or her drinking and sued for damages including medical expenses and property damages related to the accident, as well as for emotional pain and suffering.

New Jersey state laws grant substantial discretion to municipalities in regulating the sale and consumption of alcohol within their boundaries, so it would be beneficial to familiarize yourself with your local ordinances. Generally speaking, however, you can diminish your risks of being liable for alcohol-related injuries under New Jersey’s social host liability laws by providing non-alcoholic refreshments; offering alternative means of transportation or overnight accommodations; discontinuing service of alcohol to visibly impaired guests, and never serving alcohol to minors.

If you need an experienced attorney to represent you because you either knowingly or unknowingly violated New Jersey’s social host liability laws, contact Rotolo Karch Law. Likewise, if you are injured as a result of the actions of an intoxicated person, Rotolo Karch Law can help prepare your case for damages resulting from your medical expenses and pain and suffering. Our attorneys have in excess of 125 years of experience litigating personal injury lawsuits and will work to help you recover the damages you are entitled to or to defend your rights under the law. Call our offices at 908-534-7900 to discuss the particulars of your situation.


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