It is the season of graduation parties and summer celebrations, and Michiganders hosting summer events should know what their responsibilities are. Ours is one of the states that has a “social host liability” law, the purpose of which is to hold adults responsible for serving alcohol on their property – particularly to underage individuals. If a minor, or any other person, is served alcohol by a host and subsequently becomes injured, the host may be held liable for those injuries.
It is illegal to serve alcohol to minors in all 50 states, and there are no exceptions for family members. Michigan added the social host liability laws to long-standing statutes dealing with aiding or abetting alcohol consumption or possession by a minor, and laws against contributing to the delinquency of a minor, or child endangerment.
The social host liability law (MCL 436.1701) states in part that anyone who furnishes or sells alcohol to a minor is guilty of a misdemeanor and “if the subsequent consumption of the alcoholic liquor by the minor is a direct and substantial cause of the person’s death or an accidental injury that causes that person’s death,” then that host is guilty of a felony. Not only can a social host be held criminally liable, he or she may face a damages judgment in a civil lawsuit brought forth by a party injured by the negligence or recklessness of the inebriated minor, or even damages sought by the minor’s parents.
There are four fundamental elements of a social host liability claim:
- The person has suffered an injury.
- The personal injury suffered was caused by a minor (someone under the age of 21) in an alcohol-related incident.
- The host knowingly sold or furnished alcoholic liquor, or failed to make diligent inquiry as to whether the person was a minor.
- The service of the alcohol to a minor was a direct and substantial cause of the person suffering injury.
A conscientious host will not be caught in this position. There are several steps to take to prevent accidents from occurring, and regardless of possible lawsuits, every host should take reasonable precautions to make sure that no underage guest drinks alcohol. Some of these precautions are to have a bartender serve drinks, as they are trained to spot signs of intoxication and can also keep an eye out for teenagers sneaking alcohol.
It is always wise to have a designated driver ahead of time, or the name and number of a taxi service. If a guest has been consuming alcohol on your premises, ask them how they plan to get home. Being aware of Michigan’s social host liability laws will protect you and your guests, and allow you to have a safe and enjoyable summer season.