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It is That Time of Year Again…Social Host Liability Season

If we haven’t personally experienced it, we’ve seen it: An adult giving an underage relative or friend a beer, cocktail, or glass of wine.  The reasons for doing so often range from, “Well, they are almost 21” to “they should learn now how to handle their alcohol.”  Whatever the reason may be, in Marcum v. Bowden, 372 S.C. 452, 643 S.E.2d 85 (2007), the Supreme Court of South Carolina clearly set forth the law: Adult social hosts who knowingly and intentionally serve, or cause to be served, an alcoholic beverage to a person they know or should know is between the ages of 18 and 20 are liable to the person served, and to any other person, for damages proximately caused by the host’s service of alcohol.            

Though this may sound like legalese, the takeaway is simple: If an adult serves alcohol to a minor, the adult is liable for damages caused by the minor.  The breadth of this rule should provide pause to anyone contemplating serving alcohol to a minor, because not only is the social host liable to the minor, but anyone injured by the minor.  Imagine serving alcohol to a minor who, driving drunk, crashes into another car and kills the other driver.  The damages in a case like this would be immense.

Tis’ the season to not be jolly when it comes to serving alcohol to a minor.  No matter one’s personal beliefs on when the right time may be for their kids or friends to begin drinking alcohol, remember the law: If an adult serves alcohol to a minor, the adult is liable for any and all damages caused by the minor.

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