Are you hosting a party, but concerned about the possibility of excess drinking and being responsible for the resulting damage and injury? Here's a quick look at your potential liability and what you can do to prevent it.
When You're Responsible
Unless you sell liquor for a living, you're unlikely to be responsible for any injury caused by drunk employees under what are called "dram shop" laws. These laws generally only apply to commercial vendors of alcohol, such as bars, restaurants and package stores.
A drunk person can't collect for injury to himself, but a third party injured by the actions of a drunk person can collect from a social host under certain circumstances. This is especially important when the drunk person has little or no insurance to cover a serious or fatal injury.
Laws vary widely by state, with some states not imposing any liability at all on social hosts. Other states limit responsibility of social hosts to injury that occurs on the premises where the party is being held. Other states extend social hosts' liability to injuries from traffic accidents involving the person to whom they served alcohol.
Most states impose liability on social hosts where:
- Alcohol is served to a minor
- The host was reckless in serving alcohol or should have recognized the extent of the guest's intoxication and not served him or her more alcohol
Also considered is if a host is "reckless" in serving alcohol will always be a factual issue to be decided by a judge or jury. A social host should never serve a minor or encourage guests to drink excessively.
Whether or not the social event involves business associates and employees, a social host shouldn't continue to serve a guest after they're "visibly intoxicated" and/or it becomes obvious that they've had too much to drink and their judgment or physical coordination is impaired.
Many states also impose liability when an employer hosts and the event involves a business purpose. While laws vary 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 obligated to attend an office party more than some other social event.
Although the focus of your party should be on entertaining, there are many things you can do to lessen the possibility you'll be held responsible for your guest's actions after drinking too much.
- Make sure no minors are served
- If possible, host the event 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
- Provide 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 available to your guests
- Discourage guests from drinking excessively, and stop serving anyone who appears visibly intoxicated.
Encourage all guests to use designated drivers and provide alternative forms of transportation, such as free taxis or vans. Rather than 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 have to 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 liable if an intoxicated party guest lied and told me he was going home in a taxi but instead drove and was involved in an accident?
- Am I liable if a guest was secretly giving alcohol to a minor without my knowledge?
- Would I be liable if a guest who drank at my party went to a bar after my party and then got in a car accident?