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IS HOST LIABLE FOR GUESTS' DRUNKEN MISHAPS?

On Dec. 5 an article appeared in your paper entitled "Cocktail Party Liabilities." The article leaves one with the strong impression that a homeowner may be held liable for injuries to an innocent victim where a guest of the homeowner leaves his premises in an intoxicated state and causes injury to an innocent party.

The most common situation would arise where the guest apparently becomes inebriated at a gathering and later is involved in an automobile accident where an innocent victim is injured. Generally under these circumstances, absent a sale of some kind, the courts of New York State have long held that the host cannot be held liable for these damages.

The only exception to this general rule where a host may be held liable is where he serves or furnishes alcohol to one under the legal drinking age. In that case, a specifically tailored law passed by the New York State Legislature in 1983 comes into play and creates a cause of action under this narrow exception in favor of the innocent third party.

Without question, the host has a moral obligation to dispense alcohol in a responsible manner to all of his guests.

However, unless the furnishing or providing of alcohol under this social host setting is to a minor, the Court of Appeals, which is the highest court in New York State, has ruled that no liability may be imposed for injuries to an innocent victim which occur off the homeowner's premises at the hands of an intoxicated guest.

MARK G. GIANGRECO
Attorney
Buffalo

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