St. Mary's Law Journal


Sabrina A. Hall


This Perspective evaluates the contradiction created by the Texas Supreme Court in Smith v. Merritt as well as its implications on social host liability in Texas. Smith creates serious ramifications regarding alcohol consumption and liability. In Smith, the Court held a social host is not liable for providing alcohol to a guest over the age of eighteen, regardless of whether the guest is under the minimum drinking age. Specifically, this Perspective critically analyzes the court’s holding, focusing on the inequities produced by permitting a social host to provide alcohol to individuals between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one without being subject to liability. Although holding an individual responsible for her actions may seem just, the end result may often be an uncompensated victim. Most underage people only have a small insurance policy and apart from this, most eighteen-year-olds are virtually judgement-proof. Part II reviews the history of liability resulting from alcohol-related injuries in Texas while part III discusses the facts in Smith and analyzes the court’s decision in light of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code (TABC). Parts IV and V examine the Smith holding, asserting social host liability should encompass all guests under the age of twenty-one and arguing the Court erred by failing to impose liability for providing alcohol to a minor guest. Imposing such liability deters social hosts from providing liquor to minors and restores the legislative intent underlying the minimum legal drinking age. This Perspective concludes that Smith should be overruled to ensure adequate compensation for victims and to reconcile inconsistent standards, and responsibilities, placed on individuals between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one.


St. Mary's University School of Law