Social Host Liability and the Dram Shop Act

New York State imposes liability for injuries to third parties arising from serving alcohol to an already intoxicated person or to a person under the age of 21 through its Dram Shop Act. However, liability is limited to commercial transactions, requiring a sale of alcohol by a bar, salon, restaurant, or liquor store. New York General Obligations Law §11-100 and §11-101 read in tandem with New York Alcoholic Beverage Control Law §65 constitutes New York’s Dram Shop Act. Section 11-100.

Liability is further limited by requiring that the person purchasing the alcohol, if older than 21, shows visible signs of intoxication. In addition, a purchaser who shares the bottle with a friend who then drives while intoxicated will not create liability for the seller.

New York currently has no liability for social hosts who provide alcohol to guests who later injure a third party, let’s say, while driving under the influence. However, Nassau County does. On July 17, 2007, then Nassau County Executive Thomas A. Suozzi signed into law Local Law No. 13, Nassau County’s Social Host Law – A Local Law in relation to preventing the consumption of alcohol by minors at private homes.

Under the terms of Nassau’s Social Host Law, the owner or lessee of a private residence is liable for knowingly allowing the consumption of alcohol by any minor or failing to take corrective action once these drinking activities are known. The exceptions include drinking for religious purposes and when the “consumption of alcohol or alcoholic beverages by a minor whose parent or guardian is present and has expressly permitted such consumption.” Penalties escalate through repeat offenses with third and fourth offenses, including a fine of $1,000, a term of imprisonment not to exceed one year or both.

Suffolk County enacted its own version of the Social Host Law in 2007. Homeowners with teenage children should be aware of this local liability.