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Social Host Liability

People who suffered serious injuries and the families of those killed by drunk drivers in Pennsylvania may be able to obtain compensation under the state’s dram shop law. Cases involving dram shop claims, however, only apply to motorists who were served alcohol by liquor licensees.

Homeowners without formal liquor licenses may also be held liable for injuries in drunk driving accidents under limited circumstances. When these private parties hold social gatherings at which alcohol is served, they become social hosts who must exercise a certain degree of care in overseeing who alcohol is served to.

Victims of drunk driving accidents may be able to recover damages from social hosts who knowingly served alcohol to minors. When underage drivers cause crashes after consuming alcohol at a private residence, that social host can be subject to both criminal and civil penalties.

Social Host Liability Lawyer in West Chester, Pennsylvania

Did you suffer catastrophic injuries or was your loved one killed by a minor who was driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol? If the underage motorist was served alcohol at a private residence, you could be entitled to compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages.

Ciccarelli Law Offices work tirelessly to get justice for clients in Chester County, Montgomery County, Lancaster County, Philadelphia County, and Delaware County. You can have our West Chester drunk driving accident attorneys provide an honest and thorough evaluation of your case as soon as you call (610) 719-3190 to schedule a free initial consultation.


Overview of Social Host Liability in Chester County


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Types of Social Host Liability in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s social host law is very narrow in its applicability. On December 30, 1983, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania decided two cases that essentially established the limits of social host liability to this day:

  • Congini v. Porterville Valve Co. — In December 1978, Mark Congini was an 18-year-old employee of Portersville and became intoxicated after being served alcoholic beverages at a Christmas party Portersville held for its employees at its plant. Porterville was aware of Congini’s intoxication when his keys were returned to him, and Congini got into a rear-end accident in which he suffered multiple fractures and brain damage that left him totally and permanently disabled. The Court decided that Pennsylvania law does permit recovery for injuries allegedly caused by the serving of liquor by a social host to a visibly intoxicated minor guest. 
  • Klein v. Raysinger — In May 1978, Michael Klein was operating a motor vehicle on the Pennsylvania Turnpike which was struck in the rear by a vehicle which was driven by Mark Raysinger. Before the collision and prior to his being a patron at the Neptune Inn, Raysinger was served beer and alcoholic beverages at the private home of the Gilligan family. Klein alleged that Raysinger was visibly intoxicated at the time he was served at the Gilligan home, but the Supreme Court ruled that “Pennsylvania law does not presently recognize a cause of action against a non-licensed, social host who furnishes alcoholic beverages to an intoxicated guest.”

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Social Host Claims in West Chester, PA

In order for a DUI accident victim to be able to hold a social host liable, all of the following factors must be true:

  • The Drunk Driver was a Minor — Social host claims are only valid when the motorist was legally intoxicated and under 21 years of age.
  • The Social Host “Knowingly Furnished” Alcohol to the Minor to the Point of Intoxication — The phrase “knowingly furnish” in Pennsylvania does not mean that a social host had to physically hand every alcoholic beverage to the minor. A social host can be held liable for merely planning a party at which minors would be present or failing to adequately supervise children.
  • The Minor’s Intoxication Directly Caused an Injury — The minor must have driven after leaving the social gathering and caused an accident while under the influence that resulted in another party being injured.

It is important to note that the intoxicated minors who caused accidents may also have legal recourse against the social hosts in these cases. While courts in Pennsylvania have broadly interpreted the meaning of “knowingly furnishing” liquor or alcohol, the courts have also limited expansion of social host liability.

For example, the Pennsylvania Superior Court decided in November 2001 that parents could not be held liable for the injuries that resulted from minors drinking alcohol stored in the home. In Winwood v. Bregman, Timothy Winwood died and Brian Winwood was injured in an automobile accident after Brian consumed liquor the Bregmans kept in an unlocked area of their home while he was a guest of the couple’s daughter.

The Bregmans were unaware of his presence at the home that evening and did not satisfy the burden of knowingly furnishing alcohol to a minor. Thus, the court concluded that the homeowners could not be held liable for “the perfectly mundane event of storing alcohol in their home in an unlocked area.”


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Pennsylvania Social Host Law Resources

Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) | Social Host — With a stated mission to “end drunk driving, help fight drugged driving, support the victims of these violent crimes and prevent underage drinking,” it is no surprise that MADD has been an outspoken supporter of social host laws across the nation. On this section of the nonprofit organization’s website, you can download a brochure discussing the dangers of underage drinking and things parents can do to prevent minors from consuming alcohol before they are 21 years of age. You can also find infographics, answers to frequently asked questions, and parent handbooks.

Social host liability for minors and underage drunk-driving accidents — This study published in the Journal of Health Economics in 2010 examines the effects of social host liability for minors on traffic fatalities using data for the 30-year period between 1975 and 2005. The paper takes into account such factors as whether the state has a .08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) law, a zero-tolerance law, a seat belt law, and graduated driver licensing. The author concludes that, “among 18–20 year olds, social host liability for minors (SHLM) reduced the drunk-driving fatality rate” and the effect “is net of other alcohol-related state-level policies, state fixed effects, state-specific trends, and year dummies.”


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Find an Attorney for Social Host Liability in West Chester, PA

If you sustained serious injuries or your loved one was killed in a motor vehicle accident caused by an intoxicated minor, the party that served alcohol to the underage driver could be liable for your medical bills, lost wages, and other damages. Ciccarelli Law Offices can thoroughly investigate your case and fight to get you the compensation you need and deserve.

Our experienced Chester County personal injury attorneys work as a team to help clients all over Southeastern Pennsylvania with offices in Kennett Square, Lancaster, King of Prussia, Philadelphia, Springfield, Plymouth Meeting, Radnor, and West Chester.

Call (610) 719-3190 or complete an online form right now to take advantage of a free, no obligation consultation that will let our lawyers review your case.


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