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Social Host Liability In Texas

Texas first enacted its Dram Shop statute in 1987, creating a civil cause of action for injured persons to bring against those who knowingly serving alcohol to intoxicated persons. Initially, the Texas Senate’s version of the Dram Shop bill included social hosts within the definition of “providers,” but this version was rejected by the Texas House.

Generally, a social host in Texas is not liable for the actions of adults who consume alcohol on the host’s premises. In contrast, Texas law holds providers like bars and restaurants liable for damages caused by a drunk driver who has consumed alcoholic beverages at their establishment. Thus, the present Texas statute applies only to “providers,” defined as persons or establishments that sell alcohol through a license or permit. The Dram Shop bill that eventually became law, therefore, did not include any provisions for social host liability.

The landmark case on social host liability in Texas was Graff v. Beard , a 1993 case where the Texas Supreme Court held that social hosts owe no statutory or common law duty to third parties injured by their intoxicated adult guests. The Texas Supreme Court based their decision on two factors: First, since the House rejected the Senate’s version of the Dram Shop bill that included liability for social hosts, the Legislature did not therefore intend that a statutory cause of action exist against negligent social hosts.

Second, the court held that any duty of a social host depends on “whether a right to control the actor whose conduct precipitated the harm exists.” Thus, because the Legislature did not create a statutory cause of action against social hosts and a social host is under no legal duty to control the conduct of guests, the court was unwilling to create a common law duty against social hosts. Since the Graff case, Texas has refused to impose liability on social hosts who are negligent.

In 2005, Texas passed legislation that imposed liability to social hosts who provide alcohol to underage minors. As a result, § 2.02 of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code holds social hosts liable in two situations: First, if the host knowingly serves alcohol to minors and, second, at the time such alcoholic beverages were provided, it was apparent to the provider that the individual being sold, served, or provided with an alcoholic beverage was obviously intoxicated to the extent that he presented a clear danger to himself and others; and the intoxication of the recipient of the alcoholic beverage proximately causes damages. Violation of the aforementioned law is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to $4,000 in fines and up to incarceration for one year.

Thus, social hosts in Texas who are 21 and older are only liable when they provide alcohol to unrelated minors, those individuals who are under the age of 18. If a social host provides alcohol to an unrelated minor, he or she may be held liable for injuries caused by the minor’s intoxication. If a social host charges a fee for alcohol and serves someone 18 or older who is already obviously drunk, the host may be held liable because by imposing a fee for the alcoholic beverage, he or she is no longer a social host but a “provider” of alcohol, held to the same legal standard as a bar or restaurant.

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