SW Legal studies in Business

Social Hosts Not Liable for Minorís Drinking Alcohol Not Provided by Hosts

Wisconsin high court held that there could be no negligence action against parents who allowed high school students to have a party at their house were alcohol that was brought to the party by one of the students was consumed. Although a drunk student later caused an accident, negligence could not be imputed to the social hosts.

Topic Torts
Key Words

Negligence; Social Host; Alcohol; Minors; Injury

C A S E   S U M M A R Y

Beth Carr, a high school student, attended a party on property owned by the Niesens. She consumed alcohol at the party and, when driving home, cross the line and hit an on-coming car, injuring four members of the Nichols family. They sued the Niesens for negligence as social hosts for allowing minors to consume alcohol on their property. The Niesens did not serve the alcohol but apparently were aware that some kids snuck it into the party. The Nichols contended that the Niesens violated their duty by failing to prevent the alcohol consumption. The district court dismissed the suit; the appeals court reversed. The Niesens appealed to the Wisconsin high court.


Reversed. The test of negligence is whether the conduct foreseeably creates an unreasonable risk to others. The plaintiff must set forth fact that the defendant had knowledge, or should have had knowledge, of a potential and unreasonable risk. On public policy grounds a claim for common-law negligence cannot be maintained against social hosts who were allegedly aware that minors were consuming alcohol on their property, but they did not provide the alcohol, and an alcohol-related accident occurred later. Allowing such recovery would have no sensible or just stopping point. Any expansion of liability for social hosts for such instances should come from the legislature, not the common law courts.


Nichols v. Progressive Northern Insurance Co., 746 N.W.2d 220 (Sup. Ct., Wisc., 2008)

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