Torts I, Pages 366–369

Kelly v. Gwinnell

Supreme Court of New Jersey, 1984

Facts:

Defendant drove to coworker Zak's home and there consumed two or three drinks of scotch. Zak then walked defendant to his car, chatted with him, and watched as he drove off to go home. On the way home, defendant caused a head-on collision with plaintiff, who was seriously injured. Plaintiff sued defendant and his employer, who in turn sued the Zaks. Plaintiff then amended her complaint to include the Zaks.

Procedural History:

Trial court granted the Zaks' motion for summary judgment, holding that, as a matter of law, a host is not liable for the negligence of an adult social guest becoming intoxicated. The appellate court affirmed.

Issue:

Is a social host who enables an adult guest to become drunk at the host's home liable to the victim of an automobile accident caused by the drunken driving of the guest?

Reasoning:

Thousands of people die each year due to drunken driving. Imposing this duty to prevent it is fair and in accordance with the state's policy. Licensees are already liable, and social hosts should be too.

Rule/Holding:

A host who serves liquor to an adult social gust, knowing that the guest is intoxicated and that he will thereafter be driving, is liable for injuries inflicted by the guest as a result.

Judgment:

Reversed and remanded.

Dissenting Opinion:

Social hosts do not have the training to accurately detect intoxication. The majority also is unclear as the lengths that a host must go to prevent a guest from driving while intoxicated. Most importantly, a social host cannot afford such a liability like a commercial licensee can.


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