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Social Host Liability and The Holidays

Clarkston Legal Nov. 17, 2016

This holiday season, be careful if you invite people to your home and plan to serve alcoholic beverages. Here is a summary of social host liability in Michigan and a few useful tips to keep your guests safe and avoid legal problems.

Social Host Liability

In Michigan, hosts cannot knowingly serve alcohol to minors or allow consumption of controlled substances by any individual. There are exceptions: minors may consume alcohol as part of a religious ceremony; and controlled substances are legal with a valid prescription.

The courts have held that a swift-acting host, ejecting underage revelers from the premises immediately upon discovering the revelry, avoid social host liability. Most of the caselaw features drunk driving injury or death accidents caused by a minor that leaves a party or social gathering.

A rebuttable presumption arises in the statute where the host is deemed to have allowed possession or consumption of alcohol by minors, or the use of a controlled substance, when evidence is presented on all of the following:

  • The defendant had control over the premises, residence, or other real property.

  • Defendant knew that a minor was consuming or in possession of an alcoholic beverage or knew that an individual was consuming or in possession of a controlled substance at a social gathering on or within that premises, residence, or other real property.

  • The defendant failed to take corrective action.

A conviction under the social host law is a 30-day misdemeanor with a potential fine of $1000.

Quite apart from exposure to criminal charges, a civil case for personal injuries caused by an intoxicated minor driver, or someone under the influence of a controlled substance could be filed against the host.

Precautionary Measures

Be vigilant, especially when teenagers or underage college friends and family get together. If you did a shakedown, we’d bet money an assortment of containers would tumble onto the floor.

Once discovered, a host that quickly ejects the offending minor or other individual is deemed to take reasonable precautions. If a minor is discovered in an intoxicated state, detaining that individual and preventing them from driving are reasonable precautions.

Be vigilant, especially where teenagers or college students are concerned. Do not host a party and then turn a blind eye when the party moves to a secluded area. Also, watch for clues; for all of their bravado, not many young adults can adequately mask the fact that they have been consuming alcohol. If you know, you are liable unless you take reasonable precautionary measures going forward.

BYOB is no defense. Just because the guests arrive to a host’s residence bringing their own beverages does not alleviate the host from liability. As host, you are charged with preventing a minor to even possess alcohol once you are aware someone is in possession.

Grey areas exist. What if the person is a legal adult and resists detention, forcing his or her way to their vehicle? If that person causes an injury or death, and a case is filed against the host, liability would depend on the reasonableness of the precautions taken.

In addition, medical marijuana is a grey area. Technically, a medical marijuana certificate is just that: a certificate. The pot card is not a prescription within the meaning of that term in the social host act; at least that is what a corpus linguistic jurist would conclude.

We Can Help

If you or a family member are facing social host liability, give us a call to schedule a free consultation to discuss your options.