Social Host Liability: Avoiding an Unwanted End to the Fun

Emily J. Meister

After two years of being locked down or having to utilize caution and restraint when visiting and socializing with friends and family, North and South Carolinians are, understandably, ready to again indulge in and enjoy gatherings and, in particular, the festivities and frivolity of the holiday season!  Regrettably, parties, gatherings and other seasonal festivities can also create ripe opportunities for civil and, on occasion, criminal liability.  To avoid an un-jolly ending to the holiday season, property owners and hosts should keep in mind the following potential issues and obligations to minimize their personal liability:

Premises Liability

  • North Carolina property owners may be held liable for injuries occurring on their property regardless of whether the injured person is an invited guest or a random visitor, such as a caroler or a person seeking charitable donations.  To avoid such liability, owners must use reasonable care to protect third-parties upon their property.  This may require the owner to repair conditions which are likely to cause injury or to provide an adequate warning or notice of hidden dangers or defects that may not be readily visible or apparent to persons entering or accessing their property.
  • In South Carolina, property owners are not obligated or do not have a duty to search out dangerous conditions on their property.  They do, however, have a duty to warn of or protect guests from dangerous conditions that they have knowledge of and the failure to do so may result in liability for any damages suffered by guests.


  • South Carolina social hosts (as opposed to those engaged in commercial operations or otherwise selling alcohol) bear no legal liability for injuries caused by their inebriated guests over the age of twenty-one (21).  However, if the inebriated guest is under the age of twenty-one (21), the social host may be held liable or responsible for damages and injuries to both the guest and any third-party or parties hurt by the guest. 
  • Conversely, in North Carolina, social hosts can be held liable for injuries to third-parties caused by their inebriated guests, whether such guests are over or under the age of twenty-one (21), where (a) the host provided or served the alcohol, (b) knew or should have known that the recipient was intoxicated and (c) knew or should have known that the recipient would later be driving. 
  • In addition to civil liability, social hosts in both North Carolina and South Carolina that provide or serve alcohol to someone under the age of twenty-one (21) may also face criminal liability.

Fireworks, Firearms and Other Dangerous Activities

  • In both North Carolina and South Carolina, property owners may be held civilly liable for injuries suffered by persons as a result of their negligent handling or storage of firearms, fireworks and other dangerous items or materials.

Dog Bites

  • Animals may be scared by the presence of new or unfamiliar people, scents and noises during the holiday season.  In North Carolina, animal owners may be liable for bites or other injuries caused by their pets if they had notice, either because of prior incidents or because of their type or breed, that the animal was potentially dangerous. 
  • In South Carolina, however, pet owners have strict or automatic liability for damages caused by their dogs unless it can be shown that the dog was provoked into an attack.  Worse, liability for such damages may fall within exclusions to your homeowners or other insurance policies.  As a result, it may be prudent to safely secure animals away from third-parties during parties or gatherings.

Donated Food

  • Rather than allowing un-used food to go to waste, consider donating such food!  North Carolina and South Carolina statutory provisions grant immunity from civil and criminal liability for injuries or illness caused by food donated to a non-profit so long as the harm was not caused by the gross negligence, recklessness or intentional misconduct of the donating party.

With these cautionary guidelines in mind, the staff and attorneys at Law Firm Carolinas wish you and your family a happy holiday season and encourage you to contact us if we can be of any assistance!