Dram Shop Law – Social Host Liability and Liability for Retail Licensees

When hosting parties and serving alcohol, you always have to be careful. Michigan’s dram shop law identifies liabilities for social hosts and retail licensees with regard to serving alcohol. Tom Sinas, Grand Rapids personal injury attorney, shares everything you need to know before throwing your next big event.


Michigan’s Dram Shop Law

When talking about these types of laws, there are two categories: retail licensees and social hosts.

Retail licensees include bars and restaurants, or those who obtain a retail license to serve alcohol at a one-time event. This group is prohibited from serving alcohol to not only minors but also those who are visibly intoxicated. Should a retail licensee serve a visibly intoxicated person who then injures someone else, the injured party may have a potential legal claim against the licensee.

Social Host Liability

The second group is known as social hosts. Social hosts are those who throw a party at their home for friends and family, for example. Social host liability is a lot more limited than retail licensee liability. The general rule is that social hosts are not liable for injuries to third-parties when serving alcohol to adults. However, when serving to minors, there can be legal liability.

Fox 17 Know the Law – Dram Shop Law in Michigan from Sinas Dramis Law Firm

Elements of a Social Host Liability Claim

There are four fundamental elements which a social host liability Plaintiff must prove:

  1. That he or she has suffered a personal injury;
  2. That the personal injury suffered was caused by a minor, which the law defines as someone under the age of 21 in alcohol-related incidents;
  3. That the Defendant knowingly sold or furnished alcoholic liquor, or failed to make diligent inquiry as to whether the person was a minor; and
  4. The service of alcohol to the minor proximately caused the Plaintiff to suffer injury.

Special Considerations Regarding Social Host Liability

There are several special considerations that must be taken into account when filing a social host liability claim.

First, the law is somewhat unsettled in the actions which will give rise to social host liability. While the law remains clear that the express provision of alcohol to a minor will certainly give rise to a cause of action, there may be other situations in which such an action is available.

For example, in Rodriquez v Solar of Michigan, Inc, 191 Mich App 483 (1991), the Court stated that “social host liability turns on the control over, or active participation in, supplying a minor with alcohol.”  Id at 495.  This seems to indicate that the Defendant need not be involved in the actual service of alcohol to the minor to be held liable, so long as he or she had some level of control over the service of alcohol at the gathering.

Second, if the actions of the minor which caused the injury were criminal or intentional, those actions will cut off the availability of social host liability. Rogalski v Tavernier, 208 Mich App 302, 306 (1995).

Defenses to Social Host Liability

There are a number of defenses available to a Defendant in a social host liability claim. Commonly, social host defendants will assert that the minor provided identification to him or her which showed the minor to be of the legal age for alcohol consumption. If such identification is shown, it will act as a defense to the social host liability claim. MCL 436.1701(8).

Other defenses include a claim that the Plaintiff bringing the action in some way contributed to the intoxication of the minor, which is a form of contributory negligence, or that the minor’s conduct was not a foreseeable result of serving him or her alcohol, and thus the resulting injury was not a proximate cause of the alcohol.

Injuries from Drunk Driving Accidents

In the unfortunate event of a drunk driving accident, law enforcement takes into account the whole picture. Who caused the accident? What is that individual’s liability? Are there other entities potentially responsible for the accident? The bottom line is to never serve alcohol to minors and understand the potential liabilities involved with serving adults and the visibly intoxicated.