Social Host Liability

Social Host Liability in Michigan

If you have suffered an injury caused by a drunk-driving minor, you may be entitled to recover compensation from the person responsible for supplying alcohol to that minor.

alcohol-purchaseSocial host liability is the legal theory that holds those who supply alcohol to minors responsible for the damage those minors cause while intoxicated. This includes any damage inflicted on innocent third-parties, and also includes injuries to the intoxicated minor, who may himself bring a cause of action under this theory.

However, social host liability is relatively limited in scope. The theory does not apply when the entity which served the alcohol held a valid liquor license. Those situations are controlled by the Michigan Liquor Control Code, MCL 436.1801, and are exempted from social host liability. Rather, social host liability is only applicable when the minor became intoxicated at a private residence, social gathering, or event.

Elements of a Social Host Liability Claim

There are four fundamental elements which a social host liability Plaintiff must prove:

  1. That he or she has suffered a personal injury;
  2. That the personal injury suffered was caused by a minor, which the law defines as someone under the age of 21 in alcohol related incidents;
  3. That the Defendant knowingly sold or furnished alcoholic liquor, or failed to make diligent inquiry as to whether the person was a minor; and
  4. The service of alcohol to the minor proximately caused the Plaintiff to suffer injury.

MCL 436.1701. See also Longstreth v Gensel, 423 Mich 675 (1985).

Special Considerations Regarding Social Host Liability

There are several special considerations that must be taken into account when filing a social host liability claim.

First, the law is somewhat unsettled in the actions which will give rise to social host liability. While the law remains clear that the express provision of alcohol to a minor will certainly give rise to a cause of action, there may be other situations in which such an action is available.

For example, in Rodriquez v Solar of Michigan, Inc, 191 Mich App 483 (1991), the Court stated that “social host liability turns on the control over, or active participation in, supplying a minor with alcohol.”  Id at 495.  This seems to indicate that the Defendant need not be involved in the actual service of alcohol to the minor to be held liable, so long as he or she had some level of control over the service of alcohol at the gathering.

Second, if the actions of the minor which caused the injury were criminal or intentional, those actions will cut off the availability of social host liability. Rogalski v Tavernier, 208 Mich App 302, 306 (1995).

Defenses to Social Host Liability

There are a number of defenses available to a Defendant in a social host liability claim. Commonly, social host defendants will assert that the minor provided identification to him or her which showed the minor to be of the legal age for alcohol consumption. If such identification is shown, it will act as a defense to the social host liability claim. MCL 436.1701(8).

Other defenses include a claim that the Plaintiff bringing the action in some way contributed to the intoxication of the minor, which is a form of contributory negligence, or that the minor’s conduct was not a foreseeable result of serving him or her alcohol, and thus the resulting injury was not a proximate cause of the alcohol.