Social Host Liability in North Carolina


If you’re taking on the role of Social Host this summer, a little planning can go a long way. Summer’s here, and with it comes barbecue, Saturday invites, and, social host liability. North Carolina is typically a tough state in which to recover against an individual or business under a social host liability theory or “Dram shop law”. However, if you are a social host or an establishment providing alcohol, there are a few items of which you should be aware.

Dram Shop Laws

Dram Shop Laws typically refer to business establishments serving alcohol. North Carolina generally limits the liability of business owners to situations where the intoxicated individual is a minor. In order to recover damages against a business in north Carolina for serving alcohol to a minor, you will need to prove the following:

  • The vendor negligently sold or served alcohol to the minor;
  • The minor caused an accident while under the influence of the alcohol sold to him/her by the vendor;
  • The accident and injuries were “proximately caused” by the minor’s negligent driving while intoxicated.

The relevant North Carolina law is N.C.G.S. sec. 18B-121, and can be read HERE .

Social Host Liability

For social host liability, which generally refers to individuals throwing a party, the case law in North Carolina indicates that the injured person may be able to successfully seek damages from the social host if:

  • The host is the one who provided or served the alcohol;
  • The host knew or should have known that the person being served the alcohol was intoxicated, AND;
  • The host knew the person who was being served the alcohol would later be driving a vehicle;

This social host liability in North Carolina applies to all guests, whether they are minors or of the legal age to drink alcohol. A common example of this situation is where an individual attends a party as an invitee. Under the requirements above, if the host provided alcohol at the party they would potentially be taking on liability. Whether the situation gives rise to social host liability depends on how the rest of the evening plays out. As the three prong test above points out, the host has to have some knowledge or imputed knowledge that the person was intoxicated. The common side effects of alcohol would be your obvious indicators, such as slurred speech, impaired motor skills, etc.

The host also has to know that the individual would be driving later that evening.  This could be proven simply by the fact that they drove themselves to the party (and so one would assume, they would drive home). It could also be proven through testimony related to conversations between the host and the invitee about whether the invitee was going to drive home later in the evening.

Limiting Your Liability As A Social Host

If you want to throw a party but also be a responsible social host in North Carolina, you might consider a few things to not only help insure the safety of your guests, but also to limit your own liability:

  • Arrange transportation for intoxicated guests;
  • Stop serving alcohol after a certain time;
  • Make food and other non-alcoholic beverages readily available to all guests;
  • Make arrangements for intoxicated guests to stay at your home if they can’t drive;

If you have a question about a personal injury or if you feel social host liability may play a role in your personal injury claim, please call us at 704.749.7747. You can also request a call from us, HERE. We hope you’ll choose to Recover With Us.

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