Social Host Liability

The Tennessee Supreme Court has released another important tort opinion, Biscan v. Brown.

This opinion examined several important questions, including "whether an adult who hosts a party for minors and knows in advance that alcohol will be consumed has or may voluntarily assume a duty of care towards the minor guests." The Court held that the defendant adult host had such a duty of care even though he did not furnish any alcohol.

The Court also held that the "trial court did not err in excluding evidence regarding the minor plaintiff's prior alcohol-related offenses and her prior experience with alcohol and that the trial court did not err in determining that the plaintiff's sister was not at fault as a matter of law pursuant to Tennessee's statutory shield for furnishers of alcoholic beverages."

The opinion was authored by Justice Anderson. Chief Justice Drowota authored a partial dissent.

The opinions have a fascinating discussion of an important aspect of comparative fault law - the attribution of fault to a person who the plaintiff could not have sued. It was this issue that gave rise to the dissent of the Chief Justice.

Once again, I have an early morning meeting (complicated by a brief due in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals) and cannot discuss this case in detail. I will try to put something together for you this weekend.

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Comments (10) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
kimberly - September 22, 2005 1:30 PM

What about a party given by adults for adult guests? Is the host liable for anything the guest might do after he leaves the party?

John Day - September 22, 2005 8:37 PM

In Tennessee, this would be much less likely unless the host offered "key Control" services or the like.

Candice - December 13, 2005 11:32 AM

My parents throw a big Christmas Party each year for all of our family and their coworkers. What precautions should be taken?
A coworker left last years party and got in a wreck around 4am. We hold the party in a hotel and hire bartenders. Is he liable? Can he be held liable?

John Day - December 16, 2005 5:21 AM

Candice - you do not indicate where you live. The law of each state is different and therefore I cannot tell you whether your parents face liability exposure in your state or not.

I would suggest that you talk with a reputable lawyer in your community about this.

Ann - February 8, 2006 1:47 PM

My 21 yr. old friend had a party for other adults and a 20 yr old attended with her friend who was of age. She got drunk and sick from drinking and now her mother is filing criminal charges. Is he liable? As the host, is he likely to serve jail time and or pay fines?

John Day - February 10, 2006 6:42 AM

Ann - you do not mention which state you are from and, quite frankly, if you are from a state other than Tennessee I would not be able to give you an answer to the question (because I do not know the law in other states).

States have different laws about when there is criminal or civil responsibility for "serving" alcohol for minors. Your friend should consult a good lawyer in his community to get a complete understanding of what he is facing.

B. Brelsford - February 12, 2006 6:09 AM

I live in a resident owned mobile home park in Florida. At our social gatherings we provide setups for people who bring their own alcohol. Alcohol is also used for raffle prizes. What is our host liability for these events?

John Day - February 13, 2006 5:45 AM

Every state has different laws on the issue of social host liability. I do not live or practice in Florida and do not know the law of that state.

I would recommend that you talk to lawyer for your mobile home park; he or see should be able to tell you what your risk is. I assume that the park has liability insurance; you should also ask your agent if your policy has social host liability insurance coverage. (The policy on my law office does provide such coverage.)

Good luck.

Eric Michaels - February 14, 2006 9:17 AM

My wife and I were hit by a drunk driver 2 years back. It was a hit and run and luckily they caught the guy. The guy was coming from a company christmas party hosted by the company at a local fire hall in Pennsylvania. What is the social host law in PA. Can the employer be found liable?

John Day - February 14, 2006 8:51 PM

I do not know the social host liability law in PA and the fact of the matter is that it may not be social host liability at all but rather straight employer liability (depending on the facts.)

I would encourage you to see a lawyer as soon as possible. Every state has deadlines within which claims like yours must be filed.

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