New Jersey Adopts New Standard in Underage Host Liability Cases

In a published opinion, the New Jersey Appellate Division has held that underage adult hosts have a duty to injured parties to desist from facilitating the drinking of alcohol by underage adults in their place of residence.

In Estate of Narleski v. Gomes, ___ A. 3d ___, 2019 WL 2375480 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. June 6, 2019), the decedent and his friends, all underage adults, assembled at the home of one of the friends and consumed the alcohol in the host’s bedroom. The decedent left the house as a passenger in the car of one of his intoxicated friends, who subsequently lost control of and flipped over the vehicle, killing the decedent. The issue in this appeal was whether the friend who hosted the party was liable to the decedent because he permitted the consumption of alcohol by underage adults in his residence.

Generally, social hosts in New Jersey are accountable for allowing their visibly intoxicated guests to imbibe alcohol in their homes. See N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.5 to -5.8; Kelly v. Gwinnell, 96 N.J. 538, 548 (1984) (holding that “a host who serves liquor to an adult social guest, knowing both that the guest is intoxicated and will thereafter be operating a motor vehicle, is liable for injuries inflicted on a third party as a result of the [vehicle’s] negligent operation . . . by the adult guest when such negligence is caused by the intoxication.”) However, existing New Jersey law limited social host liability to situations where the person imbibing the alcohol was of legal age.

In this case, the New Jersey Appellate Division held that, going forward, “an adult . . . who is under the legal drinking age shall owe a common law duty to injured parties to desist from facilitating the drinking of alcohol by underage adults in his place of residence, regardless of whether he owns, rents, or manages the premises.” Narleski, 2019 WL 2375480, at *9. The effect of this holding is stayed for 180 days “[o]ut of respect for the greater authority of the Supreme Court and the Legislature on the subject” to allow for “further judicial review or responsive legislation.” Id. at *10.