Can I file a lawsuit against a catering company for over-serving alcohol?

Catering events are usually fun for family, company parties, or friends. Everyone is enjoying themselves until the next day when a guest from the catering event shows up in the local news for a DUI. What happens in this case? Is the catering company liable, or is the intoxicated guest at fault? Can you file a successful lawsuit for over-serving a guest alcohol?

This is a complicated question, and often, when an overly intoxicated guest causes property damage, gets into a car accident, or results in a personal injury, they will attempt to place the blame on the catering company serving alcohol in court. The guest in question may be facing criminal charges, and the catering company may be at risk as well.

Social Host Liability

Social host liability refers to the catering company being held responsible for the intoxicated guest, and whatever damages were done after the over-serving of alcohol. The laws regarding social host liability vary from state to state. 

Some state laws, such as New York and California, protect the catering company by providing alcohol. In this case, the catering company would not be held liable for the actions of the intoxicated guest. Rather than placing the blame on the supplier of alcohol, this law suggests that the person drinking is responsible for his or her actions, and is therefore the one responsible. This law states that any damages received due to over-intoxication are caused by excessive alcohol consumption from the guest, and that the catering company providing alcohol is not responsible.

Alternatively, some states may place blame on the host providing alcohol, in this case the catering company. For example, if a person gets a DUI after attending a catering event, he or she may be able to file a lawsuit against the catering company for over-serving. Claims to an effective lawsuit against a catering company may include caterers providing alcohol to a visibly intoxicated guest, failing to take preventative measures against damages, or failing to prevent reasonably foreseeable harm. In these states, with laws that impose liability on the host, victims of drunk driving accidents or persons receiving a DUI may sue the catering company for negligence.

Some states do not have social host liability laws, and usually the case is determined by the court’s discretion. Victims of damage caused by the over-serving of alcohol can still file a lawsuit against the catering company for negligence. The court will then take into consideration whether the catering company was liable for providing alcohol to an individual. The victim must prove to the court that the catering company was responsible due to the catering company’s negligence – that the serving of alcohol was the direct cause of damage, or that the victim was visibly intoxicated.

All states have one law in common: if a catering company serves alcohol to a minor, the company is responsible. Even states that have laws protecting host companies cannot protect them against a lawsuit for serving alcohol to a person under 21. Any damages done that were caused by the serving of alcohol to a minor are typically paid by the catering company, and the company will likely face misdemeanor charges.