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Social Host Liability

Description of Strategy

Under social host liability laws, adults who serve or provide alcohol to minors or persons who are obviously intoxicated can be held liable if a person who is provided alcohol is killed or injured, or kills or injures another person. In some states, social host liability is covered under dram shop laws.

Dram shop liability refers to a drinking establishment’s potential financial liability for serving alcohol to an intoxicated or underage person who later causes injury to a third party. However, dram shop laws normally only cover commercial service and not private parties.

Social host laws vary from state to state. Some state laws may only target those who provide alcohol to underage youth and don’t pertain to intoxicated persons (University of Minnesota Alcohol Epidemiology Program, 2009).

In Wyoming, social hosts who serve alcoholic beverages illegally, such as, to persons who are under 21 years old and who are not their child or ward, may be liable for the resulting damages. (Wyo. Stat. Ann. §12-8-301(c); National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2017). Under Wyoming law, those who legally provide alcohol are not liable for damages caused by the intoxication of the person served (Wyo. Stat. Ann. §12-8-301(a).

Also known as...

Controls on alcohol service at private parties, law against adult provision of alcohol and tobacco, parents who host, social host ordinance

Discussion of Effectiveness


There is evidence to support the effectiveness of social host liability laws. A systematic review (University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, 2017) found social host laws may reduce heavy episodic drinking and drunk driving, particularly among adolescents who already drink. Another finding of the study was that states with social hosting laws had fewer fatal crashes of underage drunk drivers than states without such laws. A study found social hosting laws that allowed individuals to sue bars for the drunken behavior of their patrons were most strongly associated with lower minor and adult fatality rates (Davies, Liang, Sloan, & Stout, 2000).

The success of social hosting laws appears to be tied to consistent and rigorous application of policies. A 2012 (Wagoner et al.) review of the research on social host liability policies found social host policies are variable and enforcement is not consistent. The authors suggested more research is required to develop a measure of policy strength.


Strategy Description

University of Minnesota Alcohol Epidemiology Program. (2009). Social Host Liability. Retrieved July 24, 2012.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2011). Digest of impaired driving and selected beverage control laws. Retrieved August 30, 2012.

State of Wyoming Legislature. § 12-8-301(c) (2017). Retrieved December 4, 2017.

Evidence Base

Davies, H. H., Liang, L., Sloan, F. A., & Stout, E. M. (2000). Reducing harmful alcohol-related behaviors: Effective regulatory methods. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 61(3), 402.

Dills, A. K. (2010). Social host liability for minors and underage drunk-driving accidents. Journal of Health Economics, 29(2), 241–249. doi:10.1016/j.jhealeco.2009.12.001

Saltz, R. F., Paschall, M. J., McGaffigan, R. P., & Nygaard, P.M. O. (2010). Alcohol risk management in college settings: The Safer California Universities randomized trial. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 39, 491-499.

Wagoner, K., Francisco, V., Sparks, M., Wyrick, D., Nichols, T., & Wolfson, M. (2012). A review of social host policies focused on underage drinking parties: Suggestions for future research. Journal of Drug Education, 42(1), 99–117. doi:10.2190/DE.42.1.f

University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, County Health Rankings and Roadmaps (2017). Sales to intoxicated persons. Retrieved December 5, 2017.

Whetten-Goldstein, K., Sloan, F. A., Stout, E., & Liang, L. (2000). Civil liability, criminal law, and other policies and alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities in the United States: 1984–1995. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 32(6), 723–733. doi:10.1016/S0001-4575(99)00122-0

Futher Reading

Applied Research for Community Health and Safety. (2009). Holding adults accountable for underage drinking at house parties through social host laws. San Bernardino, CA: Institute for Public Strategies.

Institute for Public Strategies. (2003, May). Adult accountability for underage drinking: The case for social host laws.

University of Minnesota Alcohol Epidemiology Program. (2009). Open house assembly.

Ventura County Behavioral Health Department. (2005). Model social host liability ordinance.