Are you planning a party for your fraternity or sorority? Are you a parent trying to decide if you should let your child join a frat or sorority? It’s important to understand social host laws and how they can impact sorority or frat parties. Here’s what you need to know.
1. Social Host Laws Vary from State to State
If someone is injured by an individual who became intoxicated at a private party, social host laws may allow the injured person to hold the party’s host responsible for their injuries. However, these laws vary from state to state.
For instance, in Massachusetts, there are no social host civil statutes, but there is some legal precedent indicating that the courts may hold hosts responsible if they provide alcohol to someone who is visibly intoxicated. Note that this precedent explicitly does not hold the host responsible if they did not furnish the alcohol.
In contrast, in New Hampshire, social host laws allow victims to hold party hosts responsible for the behavior of their drunken guests, but only in certain situations.
2. Serving Alcohol to People Under 21 is a Criminal Offense
Regardless of the social host laws in your state, serving alcohol to anyone under age is a criminal offense. Typically, frats and sororities have many members under the age of 21 years. In most cases, students start college when they are 18, and they often don’t turn 21 until their junior year.
If you purchase alcohol for one of these parties and someone under the age of 21 is arrested, gets in a car accident, or does anything else that alerts the authorities that they have been drinking, you may face criminal charges, which could include fines and even jail time.
3. Colleges Generally Don’t Have to Accept Liability for Students’ Actions
As a rule of thumb, colleges are not liable for students’ actions. In the case of Destefano v. Endicott College in Massachusetts, the plaintiff became intoxicated at a dorm party and attacked three students. After pleading guilty to the criminal charges against him, the plaintiff tried to bring a civil suit against the college for creating a situation where he could become intoxicated. The courts in Massachusetts ruled that the college was not liable under social host laws.
4. Frats May or May Not Be Liable for Injuries
Liability for sororities and fraternities can vary drastically from case to case. Frats may be held liable for injuries caused by drunken guests or for alcohol-related injuries suffered by guests in states where social host laws are in effect.
Additionally, if the frat has a liquor license, it may face liability under dram shop laws. If the frat hires a caterer or a bartender who has a liquor license, that individual or business may be liable for any injuries related to over-serving intoxicated guests.
Often, frats deny liability related to individual members, and in fact, fraternities and sororities may drop members if they cause certain types of damages. In those situations, the liability may shift to the individual or even to their family.
5. Victims Can Hold Individuals Responsible for Injuries
If someone is injured by a drunken individual, the injured person may be able to hold the individual criminally and civilly responsible. Often, in the case of college students, the liability shifts to their parents. Any liability issues faced by the student may fall on the parents. If the parents don’t have adequate liability coverage on their homeowners’ policy, their personal assets may be at stake.
If you are held liable in these situations, your exposure can be a few thousand dollars or well into the millions, depending on the severity of the accident. You may be held financially responsible for medical bills, and lost wages, as well as for pain and suffering, disfigurement, loss of consortium, or any other damages related to the accident.
6. No-Alcohol Policies Protect Frats and Reduce Insurance Claims
Although frat parties are notorious for serving alcohol, these organizations can exist without drinking. Most fraternities self-insure, and a significant portion of members’ fees go toward these insurance policies. When frats embrace an alcohol-free culture, their claims drop by 85%, and the amount of the average claim decreases by 95%.
If you have been hurt by someone who became intoxicated at a frat party or if you’re dealing with any other injuries related to a frat party, you should contact us at Mazow | McCullough, PC today. We can start with a no cost case evaluation. Then, we can help you decide who might be liable for your injuries and damages and help you obtain fair compensation.