If guests harm themselves or others, after consuming alcoholic drinks at the host’s dwelling, then under certain circumstances, the host can be made responsible for such harm. The liability that arises can be either civil or criminal and the penalties imposed could range from imprisonment or community service to fines. In most of the States of the Union it has been deemed to be a crime to violate social host laws (Harvard College. Social Host Liability Law).
The McGuiggan v. New England Tel case of Massachusetts discussed the question of social host liability. This case was based on incidents that transpired in the year 1978. Daniel the son of the McGuiggans had completed his high school studies successfully. In order to commemorate this occasion the McGuiggans held a party in which alcohol was served to the guests. Most of the guests were the classmates of Daniel and one of them, by the name of James Magee, who had consumed alcoholic drinks before attending the party was offered some more drinks by the McGuiggans (McGuiggan v. New England Telephone and Telegraph, Co).
After some time had elapsed, Daniel, Magee and two other guests went for a drive in a car. While travelling in this fashion, Daniel leaned out of the car window in order to vomit, whereupon his head collided with a cement post belonging to the New England Telephone company. The result injury proved to be fatal. Subsequently, the McGuiggans filed a case against the New England Telephone company.
This company contended that the plaintiffs were liable for prosecution due to their being the social hosts of the drunken Magee. This was not accepted by the court, which decided in favor of the McGuiggans, because it could not be established that the McGuiggans were aware that Magee was drunk (McGuiggan v. New England Telephone and Telegraph, Co).
The statute in this context was amended in the year 2000, consequent to the death of a drunken minor who had been involved in a fatal driving accident. The current legal position obtaining in this regard is that a parent who permits or condones the consumption of alcoholic drinks to minors is criminally liable. Hitherto fore, criminal liability was attendant only upon the actual offer of alcoholic drinks to a minor (Mass.Gen.Laws.ch.138).
Since there has been no reduction in the number of cases involving drunken driving by minors, it would be extremely dangerous to make the law in respect of social host liability less stringent. The need of the hour is to make the punishment much more stringent and in addition, the offenders should also be made liable according to the negligent per se standard, as is extant in some of the other States of the Union.
Harvard College. Social Host Liability Law. 30 September 2004. 28 September 2007 <http://lowell.harvard.edu/party/Social_Host_Liability_Law.pdf>.
McGuiggan v. New England Telephone and Telegraph, Co. No. 398 Mass. 152 496 N.E.2d 141 . 1986.