Most people believe that only the local tavern or bar can be held liable if a patron is over-served and then causes an accident resulting in injury or death. In reality, there are now circumstances where a homeowner can be not only civilly, but also criminally liable for allowing underage drinking to occur on the homeowner’s premises. For the homeowner, this is known as “social host liability.”
In Minnesota, social host liability is limited to situations involving minors as guests. The law in Minnesota does not provide for a civil cause of action against a social host who provides alcohol to those who are 21 years of age or older.
The Minnesota statute for providing alcohol to minors is found in the Social Host Liability Act (Minn. Stat. Section 340A.90). This statute provides a cause of action in favor of a spouse, child, parent, guardian, employer, or other person injured by an intoxicated minor. The host does not actually have to buy alcohol or pour drinks to a minor, to be liable. It is enough that the host had control over the premises and, being in a reasonable position to prevent the consumption of alcoholic beverages by the person under the age of 21, knowingly or recklessly permitted the consumption, resulting in the minor’s intoxication. Any party commencing an action under the Social Host Liability Act must do so within six years.
Several cities and counties have passed criminal social host laws. Check your city and county website to determine if you are in an area subject to these criminal laws.
Alan Milavetz, Attorney at Law