How Social Host Liability Is Treated In Texas Dram Shop Cases
While Texas law generally does not seek to tell people what they can and cannot do in their own home, sometimes special circumstances warrant a different approach. With regard to the dangerous combination of alcohol and children, Texas lawmakers have taken a firm stand. Simply put, if an adult furnishes alcohol to someone under the age of 18 and that child then hurts themselves or someone else due to their intoxication, the adult who furnished the alcohol can be sued. This is known as "social host liability".
In this article, attorney Michael Grossman describes the circumstances under which homeowners and other adults can be held accountable for the service of alcohol to minors.
Questions answered on this page:
- When is a Texas homeowner liable for the actions of his or her guests in alcohol related accidents?
- Does social host liability only apply to car accidents, or would alcohol poisoning or other alcohol-induced injuries be covered as well?
- Can fraternities and sororities be held liable under Texas social host laws?
- Do homeowner's insurance policies cover accidents caused by minors who are provided alcohol by the homeowner?
Where do Texas social host laws come from?
Before we get too far into how social host liability works, let's first take a look at where this law comes from. Back in 1987, the Texas legislature recognized that drunken driving accidents were a tremendous problem, and they sought to shift part of the burden to the alcohol provider in an attempt to dissuade them from serving people who were already drunk and/or minors. Toward that end, they passed the Texas Dram Shop Act. While this law is primarily focused on the liability of bars, restaurants, and other licensed alcohol providers, it also contains a provision that spells out the obligations of non-licensed providers of alcohol who make alcohol available for free. Note the distinction. If one sells alcohol (whether they have a license or not), they can be held liable for providing alcohol to an adult who is already dangerously drunk or to a child. But if one provides alcohol for free, particularly in a social setting, you are held to a different standard. Here is the law in question:
Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code Sec. 2.02. CAUSES OF ACTION.
(c) An adult 21 years of age or older is liable for damages proximately caused by the intoxication of a minor under the age of 18 if:
- (1) the adult is not:
- (A) the minor's parent, guardian, or spouse; or
- (B) an adult in whose custody the minor has been committed by a court; and
- (2) the adult knowingly:
- (A) served or provided to the minor any of the alcoholic beverages that contributed to the minor's intoxication; or
- (B) allowed the minor to be served or provided any of the alcoholic beverages that contributed to the minor's intoxication on the premises owned or leased by the adult.
Social hosts are not typically liable, except in cases where alcohol is provided to unrelated minors.
When we examine the law quoted above, we can read between the lines and deduce a few conclusions:
- 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.
- 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 will be liable just the same as if the 16-year-old got drunk and caused a car crash, injuring some innocent third party.
Social Host Liability for Fraternities and Sororities
Far too often, sadly, students leave fraternity or sorority parties inebriated and hurt others and themselves. Under such circumstances, the fraternity or sorority can be held liable:
- If the drinker was under the age of 18 and a member of the sorority or fraternity over the age of 21 made the alcohol available to them.
- If the drinker was 18 or older and the host of the party charged for alcohol (can be a cover charge, money for gathered for a beer run, charging per drink, etc.) and then served the adult once they were already dangerously drunk. By charging for the alcohol, they are are no longer social hosts. Instead, they are "unlicensed providers" of alcohol, and are held to the same standard as a bar or restaurant.
Under those two circumstances, the fraternity or sorority can be held liable. But the default assumption is that they are not. For instance, they cannot be liable just because alcohol consumption occurred at all. It must have been done under the circumstances outlined above.
Our dram shop attorneys are here to help.
Our attorneys have helped hundreds of families who have been devastated by alcohol-related injuries We have sued numerous bars, liquor stores, and homeowners for their violations of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code. If you have suffered due to the misconduct of a social host, please contact our office at (855) 326-0000 for a free consultation. If you would like to learn more about this area of the law, we invite you to read our Texas dram shop overview article.
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