The corona virus outbreak will definitely make this Saint Patrick’s week very different but many will still find a way to celebrate it. Whether you are going out to an event at a bar or simply staying home to host a smaller gathering of friends, please do it responsibly! We are all struggling with this virus and a criminal charge or a civil lawsuit will only make it worse. Obviously, most of think of drunk driving but this isn’t the only potential legal issue. When it comes to hosting a party, its important to remember that there is civil and criminal liability associated with it in Pennsylvania and New Jersey
Dram Shop Liability
While many may have heard or read something about the legal concept known as Dram Shop liability, most believe it is reserved for restaurants, bars or beverage retailers. In most cases, Dram Shop lawsuits occur after a serious car accident or some other incident where injuries are sustained. A successful claim requires that the plaintiff (injured party) establish (1) a minor or visibly intoxicated adult was served alcohol by the defendant (the person who is being sued) in violation of the law; and (2) the defendant’s violation caused the plaintiff’s injuries or damages. In additional to actual or compensatory damages (medical bills, pain, suffering, loss of consortium etc.), restaurants, bars or beverage retailers are subject to punitive damages (a financial award against the liable party intended to punish it for wrongdoing.)
Social Host Liability & Pennsylvania’s Criminal Code
An extension of the Dram Shop Liability is Social Host Liability. In Pennsylvania, adults who serve alcohol at private functions, like a Saint Patrick’s Party, are “social hosts.” If the host serves alcohol to a minor and the minor is injured or the minor injures someone else because of that intoxication, the social host may be liable to pay money damages to the injured person.
It is very important to understand Social Host Liability only applies to adults who serve alcohol to minors in Pennsylvania. Adults are responsible for the consequences of their own drinking at these functions. See Congini v. Porterville Valve Co., 470 A.2d 515 (Pa. 1983). New Jersey, however, does notlimit lawsuits to social occasions involving minors and a social host is responsible for the actions of an adult who leaves an event intoxicated. Dower v. Gamba, 647A.2d 1364 (N.J. Super. A.D. 1994) (cert denied 658 A.2d 299 (N.J. 1995).
A violation of this law clearly exposes one to civil liability and substantial financial damages but it is also a crime. In Pennsylvania, a person who furnishes alcohol to a minor commits a third degree misdemeanor. A third degree misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $2,500.00. The mandatory minimum fine is $1,000.00. In addition to these penalties, a criminal record could negatively impact employment and other professional opportunities. In New Jersey, this crime is a Disorderly Persons offense with a maximum penalty of 6 months in jail and $1,000.00 fine.
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