Social Host Liability In Iowa

So a person is having a party at their house and many of the guests are consuming alcohol.  Have you ever wondered whether they would be liable if one of the guests subsequently left the home and was involved in a car accident where another person was injured? Can the injured party sue the host for supplying the guest with alcohol?

The short answer is that in Iowa, social hosts are immune from these types of lawsuits.  This is called Iowa Social Host Immunity.  This was not always the case.  Prior to 1999, hosts who served alcohol to intoxicated guests could be liable for injuries those guests caused after leaving their homes. However, Iowa ultimately determined that the consumption of alcoholic beverages in private homes, rather than serving them, is the proximate cause of alcohol related injuries. Therefore, social hosts are considered immune from liability in most of these cases.  This means a person cannot be successfully sued by a person injured by an intoxicated guest after they leave their home.  

However, a host who provides a guest with alcohol in violation of the law may still be found responsible for resulting harm to a third party. The most common example is a party in which adults serve alcohol, or allow alcohol to be served, to minors. If these minors become intoxicated and go on to harm someone, most commonly in car crashes, the adult hosts can be liable.  Here are two examples that help to illustrate the distinction.

A guest leaves the house in a vehicle and hurts or kills someone else in another vehicle in an alcohol-related accident.  In that situation, the host is immune from liability if the sole claim against them stems from the provision of alcohol to the guest.  The same would not be said for a business that has an alcoholic beverage license or permit, which would face Dram Shop Liability.

On the other hand, a host may be liable if you provide or allow to be provided, alcohol to an underage guest, someone under the legal drinking age of 21, who then hurts themselves or someone else after leaving your house.  Iowa’s social host immunity does not prevent social host liability when the alcohol is provided to someone who is underage.   

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