Party Host Liability for Alcohol-Related Accidents in North Carolina


With holiday parties and gatherings on the horizon, there is a heightened risk of being on the road with drunk drivers. If you happen to be injured by an intoxicated person’s negligence, it is well known you can bring a claim against that person. But what about a claim against a business or other third party that provided alcohol to the intoxicated person? This article will examine a business or other third party’s liability for an alcohol-related accident in North Carolina.

North Carolina Dram Shop Laws

Thirty states in the U.S. have dram shop laws that hold establishments like restaurants, bars, and liquor stores responsible for selling or serving alcohol to those who cause injury or death due to their intoxication. In North Carolina under N.C.G.S. § 18B-305(a), it is unlawful “for a permittee or his employee or for an ABC store employee to knowingly sell or give alcoholic beverages to any person who is intoxicated.” Even though the language requires a “knowing” mental state, meaning the sale needs to be intentional, North Carolina Appellate Courts hold employers and businesses liable if the sale was negligent.

North Carolina General Statutes section 18B-121 only allows an injured person to hold an alcohol vendor liable if:

  • the vendor "negligently" sells or serves alcohol to a minor under age 21,
  • the minor causes a car accident while under the influence of the alcohol that was sold or served, and
  • the accident and resulting injuries were "proximately caused" by the minor's negligent driving while intoxicated.

Unlike other states, North Carolina ONLY allows an injured party to hold a business liable caused by people under the age of 21. In addition, the alcohol must be sold or served “negligently,” or without taking due care. However, if a business knowingly sells an alcoholic beverage to a person who is intoxicated, they can be held liable. Often times the case boils down to proving the business who sold or gave the alcohol to an individual KNEW that individual was intoxicated.

Host of Parties

Dram shop laws apply to host of private parties as well. Therefore, if someone is injured by an intoxicated driver, the injured party can look to the host of the party who provided the alcohol to the intoxicated person, in certain circumstances. No matter if it is a host of a party at someone’s home, a business Christmas party put on by the owners of the company, or a function hosted by a person at a restaurant, the host could be liable. Many cases in North Carolina have held a party’s host liable for serving alcohol to minors who later cause an accident from being intoxicated. Most of these cases have dealt with a party host serving minors, however the language in these cases also indicates that a host CAN be liable for intoxicated adult guests as well.

North Carolina courts have established three basic points for establishing social host liability in drunk driving accidents:

  1. The social host provided alcohol to the guest who caused an accident
  1. The host was aware or should have been aware that the guest was intoxicated
  1. The host was aware that the guest would be driving afterwards.

In summary, as the eggnog begins to flow and holiday drinks are served, it is important to understand when you could be liable and to educate yourself. No matter if you are a party host or a person injured by an intoxicated person, the legal ramifications can be significant. Please be safe and careful as the holidays approach, and remember Jetton and Meredith, is here to help.

If you have questions or have been injured by an intoxicated driver, please contact our personal injury team and partner, Mark S. Jetton, Jr. to assist you.