The Common Law

My husband and I throw a blowout party during the holidays that normally involves the heavy drinking of his friends. What kind of responsibility do we have if one of them gets in a car accident while trying to drive home after the party?

Neighbor Law: Social Host Liability

My husband and I throw a blowout party during the holidays that normally involves the heavy drinking of his friends. What kind of responsibility do we have if one of them gets in a car accident while trying to drive home after the party?

You are not alone in taking this situation seriously. The Texas Legislature and Texas courts have spent considerable time addressing accidents caused by drunk drivers and what level of responsibility the provider of alcohol has to people harmed by the drunk driver. Under Texas law, bars, restaurants, and other commercial vendors must refuse alcohol to obviously intoxicated patrons who create a danger to themselves or others. A commercial vendor that fails to do this could be responsible for harm to the drunk driver or innocent third parties. But who is to blame when a guest drinks too much at a friend's party and then causes an accident on the way home?

According to the Texas Supreme Court, the answer is: the drunk driver. The court has consistently stated that a party host is not responsible for accidents caused by guests who drink at their party. For example, the court has declined to hold a social host responsible for serving intoxicated adults, guests between the ages of 18 and 20, and even guests under 18. Courts base their logic, at least in part, on the fact that your average party host is not as capable of monitoring his or her guests' alcohol consumption as people in the business of selling alcohol.

Keep in mind that a host can be responsible for accidents caused by guests if a special relationship exists that allows the host to control the guests' behavior (like an employer and employee). Nevertheless, the easiest way to avoid ever having to think about this issue is to be sure that your guests get home safe. Put the drunken guys in a cab!

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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