Social host laws in Pennsylvania

Most states, including Pennsylvania, have laws in place that can hold bars liable for injuries caused when its bartenders over serve its patrons. However, many may be surprised to learn that, in certain situations, even those not licensed to sell alcohol can be held liable in civil court for injuries when they serve alcohol at parties, gatherings and other social events – otherwise known as “social host” liability in Pennsylvania.

Social host liability: Adult or minor

While civil liability for guest injuries generally does not apply in Pennsylvania when the social host serves alcohol to a guest that is both competent and an adult, it can apply when the guest is a minor.

This proposition is based on the idea that it is a summary offense in Pennsylvania for anyone under 21-years-old to consume alcohol, meaning any adult that provides alcohol to a minor at a party is an accomplice under Pennsylvania statute. Thus, adult social hosts breach their duty owed to minor guests when they serve minors alcohol in clear violation of statutory language.

Consequently, an adult social host may be considered “negligent per se” when he or she serves alcohol to minors, and may be held civilly liable for any injuries suffered by his or her minor guests as a result of their intoxication.

Third party liability for social hosts

Similarly, when an intoxicated guest is an adult, the host generally cannot be held civilly liable for injuries inflicted upon third parties by the intoxicated adult guest – for instance, if the intoxicated guest crashes into other motorists while driving home.

Pennsylvania courts have generally held this proposition because, in the case of an “ordinary able bodied” person, it is not the furnishing but the consumption of alcohol that is the proximate cause of any subsequent accident – meaning the host who furnishes the alcohol likely cannot be held civilly responsible.

However, akin to earlier discussion on social host liability for injuries to minor guests, social hosts may be held responsible for injuries to third parties if the injuries are proximately caused by the intoxication of a guest under the age of 21.

This rule also applies if a social host intentionally and knowingly permits his or her premises to be used by minors for consuming alcohol – and thus creates an unreasonable risk of minor guests becoming intoxicated. In these instances, if a Pennsylvania jury determines that the use of the location was a “substantial factor” in the intoxication of the minor who causes an injury, the social host may be held liable for the injuries caused.

As this article illustrates, the law surrounding social host liability in Pennsylvania can be quite complex. Accordingly, if you have been injured by a drunk driver it is often advisable to speak with a knowledgeable drunk driving accident attorney in order to learn your rights and options.