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Holiday Party Hosts Beware! Social Host Liability in South Carolina

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.  Ding Dong Ding Dong.  This is the time of year when your calendar fills up with more party events than you can possible attend.  You may even be hosting an event yourself.  While holiday gatherings are a wonderful time to connect with friends and family, if you event is serving alcohol then you need to be aware of some potential legal risks.  These risks are particularly important if any of your guests are under the age of 21.  That can range from a high school student to a college senior who is 20 years 11 month and 29 days old. 


Prior to 2007 , the common law in this state provided that a social host incurred no liability to either first or third parties injured by an intoxicated adult guest, but the law as to minor guests was unclear.  Basically, if you left the office party at your bosses house, and harmed someone else only that guest would be individually liable for the harm caused.  This would have included your college students home for the holiday, but this doctrine was changed in the 2007 case of Marcum v. Bowden.   In Marcum, the South Carolina Supreme tackled the issue of whether an adult social host who serves alcoholic beverages to an underage person (someone under 21) owes a duty to that guest and/or a third party injured as a proximate result of the host’s service of alcohol.  


In a very important ruling for anyone hosting a holiday, birthday, or office party from that date forward, the Court held that adult social hosts who knowingly and intentionally serve, or cause to be served, alcoholic beverages to persons they know or should know to be between the ages of 18 and 20 may incur liability where, under the same circumstances, they are immune for service to persons aged at least 21 years old.  Marcum v. Bowden, 372 S.C. 452, 460, 643 S.E.2d 85, 89 (2007).  In sum, be mindful of your son or daughter’s college friends who are under 21 and drinking by the fire at the annual party as they may be exposing you to serious civil liability if one of them drives home and hurts themselves or someone else.  Know your guests and always monitor your underage guests minimize your risks.