Social Host Liability: Be Careful When You Serve Alcohol at Home
Parties and alcoholic beverages go hand in hand. Whether you’re hosting a Super Bowl party, New Year’s party, Kentucky Derby party, backyard barbecue, summer pool party or your teenager’s high school graduation party, alcohol, especially beer, likely will be readily available to your guests. Before you allow the alcohol to flow freely, however, you need to be aware of whatever social host liability laws your state has in effect.
Social host liability is a legal term that refers to the civil and criminal liability you may face if someone leaves your house drunk and becomes involved in an accident that causes injuries to his or her passengers or to someone else.
Social Host Liability Laws by State
Today, 43 states have some kind of social host liability law in place. These laws vary greatly from state to state in terms of precisely who they apply to and under what circumstances. The following states have laws that hold you responsible for damages caused your inebriated guests, whatever their ages:
- New Jersey
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
The following states have laws that hold you responsible only for damages caused by your inebriated underage guests:
- New Hampshire
- South Dakota
Social Host Liability and Parental Responsibility
Keep in mind that it is illegal to provide alcohol to a minor in all 50 states, whether or not a state has a specific social host liability law on the books. Consequently, you face both civil and criminal liability if your teenager hosts a party at your home where alcohol is available.
Nor can you escape liability just because you’re not home during the party. In fact, you should never allow your children to entertain their friends unless you or another responsible adult is present. This does not mean that you need “ruin” your teenager’s party by constantly watching who does what, but you do need to make sure that you have your liquor cabinet securely locked. You also need to make sure that no party guests bring alcohol with them.
Social Host Liability Damage Types
Should one of your or your teenager’s guests have too much to drink while at your house and then cause an accident while driving home under the influence of alcohol, anyone injured in that accident can sue you for damages such as the following:
- Medical bills, past, present and future
- Lost wages
- Decreased future earning capacity
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of use of a body part
- Disfigurement or scarring
Most personal injury lawsuits proceed under a negligence theory. In other words, the injury victim must prove that you acted unreasonably or unsafely in allowing or failing to prevent your or your teenager’s guests from drinking excessively on your premises.
Another theory under which some personal injury lawsuits proceed is that of recklessness. Here the injury victim must prove that you knew or should have known that some action on your part posed a substantial risk, but you ignored that risk and performed the action anyway. In a social host liability situation, your action may have been to allow one of your guests to have a “one for the road” drink before going home, especially if he or she already showed signs of inebriation. Another example might be your failing to insist that one — or more — of your guests call a cab or Uber to safely drive them home instead of driving themselves.
Homeowners Insurance Coverage
Before hosting any home party at which alcohol will be available, you may wish to review your homeowners insurance policy. Most policies provide some liquor liability coverage, but the limits usually are rather low, generally ranging from $100,000 to $300,000. While these amounts may seem more than adequate to protect you, they may well not be if someone sustains serious injuries in an accident caused by one of your inebriated guests. In addition, your policy may have exclusions or other limitations that could leave your personal assets at risk should a jury award an injury victim an amount in excess of your policy’s limits. In this event, you likely will be held personally liable for the excess amount.
You may wish to consider purchasing a separate umbrella policy with a $1 million limit. Another option might be buying a likely less expensive event-specific policy that provides you with additional liability coverage for one event only, such as the major party you plan to throw for your 25th wedding anniversary.
Reducing Your Risk
As you probably know from personal experience, alcohol can sneak up on people without their realizing that they need to stop drinking. Consequently, when you host a party at your home, your best interests dictate that you do the following to reduce your risk of being held liable for any accidents that occur after your guests leave:
- Know your state’s social host liability laws.
- Limit your own alcohol consumption so as to be better able to judge your guests’ respective sobriety levels.
- Hire a professional bartender who knows how to spot the signs of inebriation and can better limit further consumption than you can.
- Encourage each group of guests to pick a designated driver who will drink only nonalcoholic beverages during your party.
- Serve plenty of food throughout the party.
- Provide plenty of bottled water, soda pop, iced tea, coffee or other nonalcoholic beverages for your guests, especially as the afternoon or evening begins to wind down.
- If a guest seems particularly tired or evidences other symptoms of too much alcohol consumption, insist on calling a cab or Uber for him or her. If necessary, be proactive in taking his or her car keys. Better to have an irritated friend than an injured or dead one.
Why You Need an Experienced Local Attorney
Given that each state has its own social host liability laws, you need the advice, counsel and representation of an experienced local personal injury attorney if someone sues you for injuries he or she suffered in a motor vehicle accident caused by one of your party guests.
Work With an Experienced Local Lawyer
Submit a request online today or call us at (866) 345-6784 to get in touch with an experienced personal injury lawyer in your area.