I.I.I. Advises Thanksgiving Party Hosts on Limiting Liquor Liability

November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of holiday season and for many that means party time.

But hosts who serve alcohol should take steps to limit their liquor liability and make sure they have the proper insurance, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Social host liability, the legal term for the criminal and civil responsibility of a person who furnishes liquor to a guest, can have a serious impact on party throwers, according to the Institute.

Dram Shop Liability

Social host liability is also known as dram shop liability. Laws vary widely from state to state, but 43 states have them on the books.

Most of these laws also offer an injured person, such as the victim of a drunk driver, a method to sue the person who served the alcohol, the Institute explains. There are circumstances under these laws where criminal charges may also apply.

“Because you can be held legally responsible for your guests’ actions after they leave your party, hosts need to be particularly careful,” said Loretta Worters, vice president of the Institute.

“While a social host is not liable for injuries sustained by the drunken guest, as they are also negligent, the host can be held liable for third parties, and may even be liable for passengers of the guest who have been injured in their car,” she said.

Before planning a party in one’s home, it is important to speak with the insurance agent or company representative about homeowners coverage and any exclusions, conditions or limitations the policy might have for this kind of risk.

Homeowners insurance usually provides some liquor liability coverage, but it is typically limited to $100,000 to $300,000, depending on the policy, which might not be enough.

Whether hanging out with a small group of friends for cocktails or throwing a big family bash, the Institute advises party hosts to keep in mind that that a good host is a responsible host, and needs to take steps to ensure guests get home safely if they have been drinking.

For those planning to serve alcohol at a holiday party, the Institute offers following tips to promote safe alcohol consumption and reduce social host liability exposures.

• Make sure to understand state laws. Before sending out party invitations, be familiar with the state’s social host liability laws. These laws vary widely from state to state. Some states do not impose any liability on social hosts. Others limit liability to injuries that occur on the host’s premises. Some extend the host’s liability to injuries that occur anywhere a guest who has consumed alcohol goes. Many states have laws that pertain specifically to furnishing alcohol to minors.

• Consider venues other than one’s home for the party. Hosting the party at a restaurant or bar with a liquor license, rather than at the party host’s home, will help minimize liquor liability risks.

• Hire a professional bartender. Most bartenders are trained to recognize signs of intoxication and are better able to limit consumption by party-goers.

• Encourage guests to pick a designated driver who will refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages so that he or she can drive other guests home.

• Be a responsible host/hostess. The party hosts should limit their alcohol intake so that they would be better able to judge the guests’ sobriety.

• Offer non-alcoholic beverages and always serve food. Eating and drinking plenty of water, or other non-alcoholic beverages, can help counter the effects of alcohol.

• Do not pressure guests to drink or rush to refill their glasses when empty. And never serve alcohol to guests who are visibly intoxicated.

• Stop serving liquor toward the end of the evening. Switch to coffee, tea and soft drinks.

• If guests drink too much or seem too tired to drive home, call a cab, arrange a ride with a sober guest or have them sleep at the host’s home.

• Encourage all guests to wear seatbelts as they drive home. Studies show that seatbelts save lives.

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