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Social Host Liability Law in Illinois by Roger Rudich

August 29th, 2012

Last year, in Bell v. Hutsell, the Illinois Supreme Court  returned to the issue of social host liability in Illinois.  Our society has become increasingly intolerant of injuries resulting from intoxication.  As a response, some states impose general liability on a host for injuries resulting from a guest’s drinking.  But in Illinois, a social host is generally not liable for a guest who consumes alcohol and then is injured, or causes injury to a third person.

However, the Illinois Supreme Court in Bell held that in some cases, a social host can be found liable for injuries under a voluntary undertaking theory.  Under this theory, if a social host performs an act, but does so negligently, the host can be found liable for injuries sustained by the guest and/or a third party.

To recover against a social host under this theory, the injured person must show that the host performed an affirmative action that resulted in the injuries.  For example, in Wakulich v. Mraz, the Illinois Supreme Court recognized the liability of hosts who exerted control over a helpless and drunk minor by refusing to get her help and preventing others from calling 911, resulting in her death.  In Simmons v. Homatas, the Illinois Supreme Court imposed liability on the employees of a club who ejected a drunk individual, placed him in his vehicle, and directed him to drive away.  However, Illinois courts will not impose liability when a social host takes no action whatsoever, such as the recent decision in Bell.

Determining whether an affirmative action was taken by a social host can be difficult to establish, yet it is absolutely crucial to winning a case.  Experienced counsel is fundamental to winning against a social host through a voluntary undertaking theory.

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