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Social Hosts Not Safe from Liquor Liability Laws

Mar 2, 2008
Everyone is aware of the huge costs of alcohol abuse - increased violence, debilitating or life-threatening car crashes, and other societal ills. Many are aware of businesses' legal obligations to stop serving alcohol to visibly intoxicated patrons. But few are aware of the so-called "social host" liability - the legal responsibilities of those who serve their guests alcohol.

Not all states recognize social host liability, but those that do consider the obligations of a social host to be serious, especially in cases which involve drunk driving.

What is a Social Host?

A social host is the host of a gathering of any kind, from a two-person dinner party to a large convention, company party or wedding. They can be an individual, a corporation, or a group (such as a fraternity or social organization). The size of the gathering is inconsequential - from a single guest to a guest list of thousands, the individual can carry a hefty financial burden under social host liability.

When is a Social Host Liable?

They are liable for injuries (physical and financial) suffered on the part of a guest who causes injury to a third person when the following requirements are met:

* The host did serve alcohol to the person who caused the personal injury or property damage in question;

* The party-thrower knew, or should have known, that the person who caused the personal injury or property damage was intoxicated; and

* The person knew that the person who caused the personal injury or property damage would be driving after the social occasion.

The important thing to note is that the social host is not automatically liable if their guest goes on to injure somebody or some property while intoxicated. If the person does not appear drunk, the host is released of legal liability (though they will usually need another guest or organizer's testimony to that effect). In addition, the individual cannot be sued for injuries on the part of the intoxicated guest - only third parties injured through the guest's negligence.

How Can a Social Host Avoid Liability?

The safest - and best - way of avoiding liquor liability, as a host is clear - do not serve alcohol at social events. However, in the case that alcohol is served at your social event, know that you have taken on liability for your guests' actions. Here are some tips for avoiding the potentially weighty financial obligations that come with hosting events that serve alcohol:

* Encourage designated drivers - provide non-alcoholic drinks for these guests and make sure they have the car keys.

* Limit the amount of alcohol available at your gathering.

* Consider hiring bartenders. While this does not release you from liability, it can provide an additional layer of insulation against liquor laws.

Check to see if your homeowner's or business insurance covers liquor liability. You may be able to purchase single-event insurance for large events, such as company picnics or wedding receptions.
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