Hunting Camp Liability

During the yearly deer season, many hunters gather at a camp with friends and family. These gatherings are commonly accompanied by the presence of alcohol. Throughout the season, some intoxicated camp members and/or guests unfortunately get behind the wheel of a car. This raises the question: Who may be held liable if a person becomes intoxicated at camp and later injures himself or others while driving intoxicated?

In this scenario, the camp is considered a social host. In some states, a social host may be liable for resulting personal injury if the social host served alcohol to a person when he knew or should have known the person was intoxicated and/or when he knew the person would be operating a motor vehicle. The term “social host” may be defined as anyone who hosts a social gathering, including private individuals and organizations, and supplies alcohol to its guests. The laws which regulate social host liability are refereed to as “Dram Shop Acts”, and they enable an injured third party to recover damages from the alcohol supplier.

Pennsylvania enacted its own Dram Shop Act. However, this law applies only to retailers licensed by the Liquor Control Board, and does no apply to private individuals who provide alcohol to persons over the age of 21. To date, Pennsylvania Court decisions have refrained from holding a social host liable for injuries caused by his or her guest over 21, even if the host served a guest who was visibly intoxicated. These court decisions are premised on the idea that adults are responsible for the consequences of their own actions (i.e. drinking and driving).

Pennsylvania law does permit recovery of damages from a host who “knowingly serves” alcohol to those under 21 years of age where someone is subsequently injured as a result of the minor’s negligence.

While the law is always subject to change over time, currently the legislature and Courts have resisted expanding social host liability or the Dram Shop Act beyond its current parameters. Therefore, we as individuals should do our part in protecting innocent parties from those people drinking at our camps.

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