Holiday Parties & DWI: Social Host Liability

It wouldn’t be the holiday season without parties. Many employers throw a bash for their staff, and some professors also invite students to parties, sometimes off campus.

But what are the legal consequences of serving alcohol? If an employee or student gets drunk at your event, are you responsible if they crash their car and hurt someone on the way home? It might sound crazy, but in plenty of states the answer is “yes.”

Fortunately, Texas has “social host” laws that are very narrow in scope. In most cases, a host will not break the law if an intoxicated person gets a DWI or is involved in a collision on the way home from the party. Still, there are situations which are covered by the social host law, and you could face prosecution. It’s best to work closely with a DWI attorney like Tad Nelson to ensure your legal bases are covered.

Social Host Liability in Texas

Texas has a couple laws that apply to social hosts—one criminal and one civil.

The criminal law is found at Section 106.06 of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code. It is a Class A misdemeanor to give or make available alcoholic beverages to a minor (under 18) if done with criminal negligence. Serving a minor alcohol would clearly qualify as a crime. A conviction could lead to maximum penalties of a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. You will also have a criminal record.

There is also a civil law in Texas. Alcoholic Beverage Code section 2.02 states you are responsible for damages caused by a driver under 18 if you supplied them with liquor. However, you are not liable if you are the child’s parent/guardian or spouse, and you are only on the hook if you knowingly served them alcohol or allowed access to it.

Do You Employ Minors?

As you can see, the two laws listed above apply only if the person furnished alcohol is a minor. Few employers actually have workers under age 18, so there is little risk that you will face criminal or civil liability for a DWI accident.

However if you work at a university, then you need to be especially careful. There is an exception to the criminal law for providing minors with alcohol as part of a culinary arts program or something similar—but that applies to very few schools, and not to holiday parties.

Universities should be careful not to serve alcoholic beverages to students, and professors who throw off-campus parties must be even more careful. It is possible to face civil and criminal charges if you give a minor alcohol at a party and he or she drives home while intoxicated.

Contact Tad Nelson with Questions

This is the time of year to enjoy the company of friends and family while looking forward to a better 2023. If you messed up and provided alcohol to someone involved in a crash, give us a call. Our legal services could make the difference between imprisonment or your liberty.