December 16th, 2016|
We’ve shared this information before, but it bears repeating as every year lives are needlessly lost and ruined during the most festive time of year. Whether it’s a Christmas party, a New Year’s Eve bash, or a get-together any other time of year, hosting a party is a big responsibility. You want your guests to have a good time, and you want to enjoy your own party, so you work hard to make sure that everything is taken care of before the party starts.
However, your responsibilities as a host go beyond making sure folks have fun. In fact, if one of your guests has too much to drink, your responsibilities could include paying damages should they injure or kill in a drunk driving accident or other incident.
Social Host Liability
Social host liability results when a host serves alcohol to a party guest who is obviously drunk, and the intoxicated guest hurts or kills another person, at the party or offsite. The common case is when an intoxicated guest drives away from the party and wrecks into another car and hurts or kills the occupants of the other car; those victims can sue the drunk driver and the host. The laws which allow the lawsuit against the host are called “dram shop” acts. These laws were initially focused on holding bar and restaurant owners responsible for injuries to others caused by their overserving of visibly intoxicated customers.
Almost all states (43) have dram shop acts, but these laws vary widely as to whether they cover public places like bars, restaurants and clubs, as well as private individuals who serve alcohol to party guests.
For example, Alabama’s Dram Shop Act allows individuals injured by an intoxicated person to sue the drunk and any person or business that provided alcohol to the intoxicated person.
Alabama also has a law known as the Civil Damages Act, which is specifically to protect minors (in Alabama, a person under the age of 19). It states that anyone providing alcohol to a minor who is subsequently hurt or killed because they are intoxicated, can be sued for the injuries to, or death of, the minor. This is a very different law from the Alabama Dram Shop Act. Under the Dram Shop Act, the person injured must show that the host knew or should have known that their guest was intoxicated, and the drunk cannot sue the host for serving them when drunk. But under the Civil Damages Act, the minor who is served can sue the host, and he or she only has to show that the host provided the minor with alcohol; it does not matter whether the host provided the first or the last drink, or even whether the host knew the person was underage.
Party Without Problems
No matter what the social host liability law is in your state, you owe it to yourself and your guests to make sure that your party is a safe one and that the alcohol you serve does not become a source of tragedy or liability.
Here are some sound pieces of advice for how to minimize alcohol-related risks both during and after your party:
- Keep the kids away from the booze. Not only should you not serve alcohol to minors, you should also make sure that they aren’t able to serve themselves in the middle of a hectic, crowded party.
- Hire a pro. If you’re responsible for serving drinks in addition to all of your other duties as host or if you have an open bar, it can be hard to keep an eye on folks’ consumption and keep them from being overserved or overserving themselves. Professional bartenders are trained to spot intoxication and can keep guests from having one too many. They can also alert you to potential issues.
- Keep it together. The last person you want getting too drunk at your party is you. If you have too much to drink, it will make it difficult if not impossible to evaluate how your guests are doing during – and more importantly, at the end – of your party.
- Food and (non-alcoholic) drink. You’ll probably be serving food at your party, and that’s a good thing from a safety perspective. Food can slow down the absorption of alcohol in the body. Additionally, have water and non-alcoholic drink options available so your guests can switch from booze if they want to slow down a bit or stop drinking for the night.
- Options for getting home – or staying. The biggest danger from an intoxicated party guest is the possibility that they will drive home drunk. Not only should you check and see if your guests have picked a designated driver in their group, you should have other transportation options available to them, such as the phone numbers of cab companies, or apps like Uber or Lyft. Make it clear that it’s okay for your guests to leave their cars behind, and if possible, offer your overserved guests the option of sleeping it off.
All of us at Cory Watson Attorneys extend our best wishes to our friends, clients, colleagues, and their families for a happy, safe, and joyful holiday season.
Cory Watson: Your Lawyers for Life
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