Can Holiday Party Hosts Be Held Liable for Drunk Driving Accidents Caused by Guests?

Generally Speaking Holiday Party Hosts in Texas Can’t Be Held Liable For Accidents Caused By Guests Who Drink And Drive, But There Are A Few Important Exceptions

Many business owners we know and a few of our friends have asked us recently if they need to closely monitor the sobriety of their guests who leave and drive after holiday season social events.

Under Texas law, no cause of action is permitted in the social host context because our Courts have long held that a social host has no duty to prevent someone from drinking and driving.

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code however does make actionable claims for damages against any adult 21 and over who:

1) knowingly serves or provides alcohol to a minor that contributed to a minor’s intoxication, or

2) knowingly allows the minor to be served or provided any of the alcoholic beverages that contributed to the minor’s intoxication on premises owned or leased by the adult. The adult must not be the intoxicated minor’s parent, guardian, or spouse, or have legal custody of the intoxicated minor for there to be a claim.

Simply stated, the law allows an injured person to seek damages from any host over age 21 who provides alcohol to a minor who is under age 18 if:

  • the adult is not the parent, guardian, legal custodian, or spouse of the minor, and
  • the adult knowingly served or provided an alcoholic beverage to the minor or allowed the minor to drink on any property owned by the adult.

When we examine the law and read between the lines we deduce:

Social hosts are only liable when they provide alcohol to minors who are NOT related to them. If a social host provides their own child with alcohol, no matter how bad that child may ultimately injure someone, the social host cannot be held liable.

The social host has to be 21 or older. So, if a 19-year-old provides alcohol to a neighbor kid who is 17, and that neighbor kid then kills someone in a drunken car crash, the social host is not liable.

Social hosts who serve alcohol to intoxicated individuals aged 18-20 are not liable for injuries. Even though the recipient of the alcohol may be a “minor” in terms of the legal age to buy alcohol, they are not considered to be a minor in terms of liability. The rationale is that if you are able to vote, serve in the military, and get married, you can’t blame others for your overindulgence in alcohol at a social gathering.

To be clear, though, the standard is different for bars since they are profiting from the sale of alcohol to adults.

We note that the social host doesn’t have to physically hand the alcohol to the minor themselves. Making it available (which is liberally interpreted) to a minor is enough to incur liability.

If a social host provides alcohol to a minor who is not their relative, they can be held liable for intoxication related injuries that the intoxicated minor inflicts on others or on themselves. So, if a 16-year-old is served alcohol at a party and then dies of alcohol poisoning, the social host can be liable.

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