Social Host Alcohol Liability



Are you hosting a party, but bothered about the chance of excess drinking and obligations for the resulting damage and injury? Here’s a glimpse at your potential liability and what you can do to prevent it.

When You’re Responsible
Except if you sell liquor for a living, you’re unlikely to be responsible for any damage caused by drunk employees under what is called “dram shop” laws. These laws generally only put on commercial vendors of alcohol, including bars, restaurants, and package stores.

A drunk person can’t collect for accident to himself, but a third party injured by the actions of a drunk person can get from a social host under specific circumstances. When the drunk person has little or no insurance to deal with a serious or fatal injury, this is particularly important.

Laws differ extensively by state, with some states not enforcing any liability on social hosts. Other states limit responsibility of social hosts to injury that arises on the premises where the party is being held. Other states offer social hosts’ liability to injuries from traffic accidents entailing the person to whom they offered alcohol.

Most states impose liability on social hosts where:
– Alcohol is offered to a minor
– The host was reckless in delivering alcohol or should have recognized the extent of the guest’s intoxication and not served him or her more alcohol.

Likewise, “reckless” serving of alcohol will always be an accurate issue to be chosen by a judge or jury. A social host should never serve a minor or encourage guests to drink excessively.

Business Situations
Whether or not the social event involves business associates and employees, a social host shouldn’t continuously serve a guest after they’re “visibly intoxicated” and/or it becomes visible that they’ve had too much to drink and their judgment or physical coordination is impaired.

Several states also impose liability when an employer serves as host and the gathering entails a business purpose. While laws are different greatly depending on the state, the employer host generally has a greater duty to the employee guests due to the perception that an employee may feel responsible to attend an office party greater than some other social event.

Preventive Actions

Although the focus of your party should be on entertainment, there are plenty of details you can do to decrease the possibility of being held responsible for your guest’s actions after drinking too much.

– Ensure no minors are served
– If possible, host the party at a restaurant or bar licensed to serve alcohol, where professional waiters can monitor alcohol intake and politely cut off anyone they perceive has had enough to drink
– Give everything except the liquor, and host a cash bar. Guests purchase the alcohol themselves, and you’re somewhat removed from being accused making unlimited alcohol provided to your guests
– Discourage guests from drinking excessively, and stop serving anyone who shows up visibly intoxicated.

Urge all guests to use assigned drivers and provide other forms of transportation, like charter busses, mini coaches or vans, and provide a “safe ride home” transportation option. Instead of letting someone wander out the door in an obvious intoxicated state, it makes sense to enlist another guest headed in their direction.

In extreme circumstances, you may must take your guest’s car keys and insist they sleep over.

A little prevention can go a long way, and may even save someone’s life.

Questions for Your Attorney

– Am I responsible if an intoxicated party guest lies and informs me he is going home in a taxi, but rather drives and becomes associated with an accident?
– Am I liable if a guest is confidentially giving alcohol to a minor without my knowledge?
– Would I be liable if a guest who drinks at my party heads to a bar afterwards and then gets involved in a car accident?

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