Social Host Not Responsible For Death of Intoxicated Social Guest

Posted on May 19, 2010

The defendants furnished alcoholic drinks to twenty-year old Marcos Gonzalez at their home. He became intoxicated, boisterous, and was ordered to leave. Upon leaving, Mr. Gonzalez got into his own car to drive home. Due to his intoxicated state, he lost control of his car and was killed in an automobile collision. His mother filed a wrongful death claim against the defendants, claiming that they were responsible for his death because they provided him with alcohol and forced him to leave by car. 

The court dismissed the case, finding that the defendants owed no duty to a voluntarily intoxicated individual. Although Mr. Gonzalez was not of lawful age (21) for consuming alcohol, he was an adult. The court noted that the law holds that "an adult who is permitted to drink alcohol must be the one who is primarily responsible for his or her own behavior and resulting voluntary actions." This rule applies even to an underaged drinker who has attained the age of majority. 

Under Ohio law, a person’s decision to drink and drive is called "a primary assumption of the risk." Under this doctrine, the person’s voluntary decision to expose himself or herself to an obvious danger, relieves any other person from any duty to protect that individual. The court rejected the claim that the defendants forced Mr. Gonzalez to drive his car while he was drunk. The court reasoned that the defendants did not put a gun to Mr. Gonzalez's head nor strong-arm him into his car.  As a result, the court reasoned that his decision to leave by "car" was voluntary and of his own choice. 

For a full account of this recent case, please click here.

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