Many people in New Jersey ask, “I had a small party at my house and one of my guests drank alcohol and later got into a car accident, am I liable?” New Jersey homeowners also ask, “Can I get in trouble serving alcohol to a minor?” The short answer to both is yes.
In recent years society has become less tolerant of drunk driving and underage drinking, with many organizations taking on active roles in politics resulting in the passage of stringent laws related to alcohol. New Jersey is no exception. There is a strong public policy in New Jersey against serving minors and intoxicated adults.
First, hosts in New Jersey should be aware to never serve minors any alcohol. In New Jersey serving alcohol to a minor is disorderly persons offense and, depending on the circumstances, can also be a more serious criminal offense of endangering the welfare of a minor.
Further, in 1987 New Jersey passed a law on “social host liability,” making a host liable for injuries to a third-party for a guest’s actions if the host serves a guest, twenty-one years of age or older, alcohol when that person is “visibly intoxicated.” Therefore, if you serve alcohol in your home you should be aware of signs of intoxication, and, if they exist, you should immediately stop serving any “visibly intoxicated” person alcohol.
However, in New Jersey the “social host liability” law only applies when third-parties are injured as a result of a motor vehicle accident. Therefore, social hosts will not be held liable for injuries to the intoxicated individual. In addition, the social host will not be liable to any third-party who was hurt because of anything not related to a motor vehicle accident (such as a fight).
Also, the New Jersey social host law does not apply to individuals serving alcohol to a minor. Nevertheless, under negligence law, hosts are liable for injuries to innocent third-parties or intoxicated minors if the host served a minor who at the time was “visibly intoxicated.” Unlike liability under the social host statute, these “common law” principles are not limited to injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident. Therefore, if you intend to have a social gathering in New Jersey and will be serving alcohol, you should never serve to minors or anyone who is visibly intoxicated.
Hosts having parties in New Jersey should also be aware that “serving” alcohol does not require that the host actually “serve” a drink to a “visibly intoxicated” person. Instead, a social host can be held liable if he or she has a party with a self-service bar, a keg, or even a cooler where guests can help themselves.
McLaughlin & Nardi’s attorneys regularly represent both social hosts and injured individuals in alcohol related matters, including motor vehicle accidents, assault, and battery throughout the State of New Jersey. To learn more about what we can do to help, please visit our website, call our lawyers at (973) 890-0004.