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With the advent of summer in full swing, you may be hosting several parties. If you host a party and serve alcohol, you become potentially liable for the actions of your guests if they become intoxicated and cause injuries to others.

New Jersey recognizes this as social host liability. If you provide alcohol to a guest who is "visibly intoxicated" and that guest causes injuries to a third person by driving, you can be held responsible for the injuries sustained by the third person, but not by the guest himself (assuming the guest is of legal drinking age).

The reasoning behind social host liability is that you should have foreseen that your guest was becoming inebriated and acted reasonably to stop it. By continuing to serve the guest alcohol, you made it more likely that your guest would injure others. You are liable as the social host, even if you didn't actually serve the guest the alcohol yourself.

Social host liability is similar to the liability that bars, restaurants, and liquor stores face for continuing to serve an intoxicated person who gets behind the wheel and injures another driver or passenger on the road. The liability for bars and restaurants is known as Dram Shop law. One key difference is that bars and restaurants face liability for the injuries of the intoxicated person himself, whereas social hosts do not. Further, even if the patron is found guilty of a DWI, he can still file a civil lawsuit against the bar or restaurant that served him.

Of course, in any situation, intoxicated people themselves can always be sued for negligence by the third parties they injure.

When you host social gatherings, be aware of your responsibility. Don't ever serve alcohol to minors and keep an eye on the alcohol consumption of all guests. Stop serving guests that appear intoxicated and do not let them get behind the wheel of a car.

Keep others safe this summer by being a responsible host. However, if you are facing a lawsuit for the actions of a guest, consult with an attorney to protect your rights.

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