Can you be held responsible if someone leaves your house after enjoying too many drinks and gets into an accident (or a fight)? In California, the answer is most often a resounding “no.” This is not so in many other states, so if you are in another jurisdiction or are planning to hold your party across the state line, research the law in that jurisdiction.
California Civil Code §1714 provides broad immunity against liability for “social hosts,” or people who serve alcohol to guests. What this means is that if you have a party or a dinner and a guest drinks too much and later gets caught driving under the influence or harms someone because they drove under the influence (or got into a fight, or engaged in some other bad behavior attributable to drinking too much) after being a guest in your home, you cannot be sued for damages.
There are, however, a few exceptions to the grant of immunity given by the legislature. If you are a parent, or other adult, and you furnish alcohol to a person you know is under the age of 21, you can be held liable for damages resulting from his or her consumption of alcohol. What’s more is that not only can the injured person sue you, but the person who you gave alcohol to at your party can sue you as well, if they cause injury or damage to someone else.
There is one more situation where a host may face liability for the acts of their [drunk] guest after they leave. If you invite guests to a party but charge an admission, no matter how nominal, it may be that you could be held liable for any damages they cause after leaving your party that are a result of their drinking. In the case Ennabe v. Manos, the Court of Appeal for the Second District held that a nominal admission did not constitute a sale of alcoholic beverages and therefore fall into an exception to the social host immunity granted in CCC §1714. However, in March 2011, the California Supreme Court granted cert to review the case, superseding the lower court’s ruling. Nobody knows at this point what the outcome will be.