Party Hosts Can Be Held Liable if Their Guests Drink and Drive

As a DUI lawyer in practice at the Law Office of Christopher W. Shelburn, PLLC in Charlotte, Chris Shelburn frequently represents defendants in DUI cases. And according to Shelburn, the burden of proof in a case where a party host is being charged with enabling a guest to drink and drive will be quite high.


When it comes to DUI charges, a party host certainly can be held liable if a guest at his event drives home drunk and injures a third party. However, the standards that would have to be met in order to prove to a jury that the party host knowingly over-served a guest would be quite high.

Potential Legal Trouble

In North Carolina, if you enable someone to drink and drive, then you can be held liable, but only if you knew that the person you were over-serving would pose a risk on the road. In that case, allowing the party guest to drive when you knew he was drunk or intoxicated could certainly come back to bite you and potentially result in a civil or criminal case against you.

In addition, party hosts could potentially face even more legal trouble by over-serving a minor. If you provide alcohol to someone who is underage, then you definitely could be in trouble. Serving a guest who is under 21 can result in a criminal case being filed against you by the state.

Since restaurants and bars face these types of cases quite frequently, bartenders and waiters are always instructed not to serve obviously intoxicated patrons. Nonetheless, if a case is brought against a bar as the result of a drunk driving accident caused by one of its patrons, then the bar will most likely be able to protect itself from liability with special insurance that most companies have.

Civil or Criminal Cases

If you were to be criminally charged for enabling a party guest to drink and drive, you would most likely be charged with aiding and abetting a DWI, which basically means that you facilitated someone driving drunk. This is similar to what someone would be charged with if he were to give his car keys to an obviously intoxicated friend and allow him to drive. If a person only drives drunk after a friend hands him the car keys, then that friend essentially aided and abetted the drunk driving.

Any party host who knowingly serves someone too much alcohol and enables him to drive drunk is likely to be charged in civil court. If you have a party and you over-serve your guest and let him drive, and then he has an accident and hurts someone, then that would be a civil case. In that case, the injured third party would most likely be suing you to recoup the cost of damages from his injury.

The state would have to prove its case to a much higher standard in criminal court than an injured victim would have to in civil court to ensure a win. And it is almost always going to be easier to sue the drunk driver than to try and prove that the party host intentionally over-served the driver and allowed him or her to drive. You would have to be more guilty, so to speak, to get a criminal aiding and abetting charge than you would to get a civil suit filed against you.

Anyone can file a civil suit for any reason because of how the civil court system works, but that does not necessarily mean that the case will go very far. In these situations, the defendant will have to pay various attorney fees even if he or she is innocent and the charges are baseless, just to make the case go away. Nonetheless, a skilled DUI lawyer in Charlotte should be able to defend a client from both types of cases—civil and criminal—which is why it is usually worthwhile to hire representation immediately rather than trying to defend yourself in court.

Just like in a traditional DUI case, I would advise anyone who is accused of enabling a party guest to drink and drive to get in touch with a DUI lawyer as soon as possible. A lawyer will go over the facts of the case to determine whether the state actually has a case against you. In some instances, the defendant in this type of scenario may be better off opting for a plea deal that is arranged by the prosecutors than to go ahead with the defense.

This article is for informational purposes only.  You should not rely on this article as a legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances, and you should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.  Publication of this article and your receipt of this article does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Source by Chris Shelburn

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *