Ho-Ho-Ho Holiday Parties? Survey Says Homeowners Unaware of Risks

December 19, 2008

As millions of Americans host and attend holiday parties across the street or across the country, many are unaware of the risks they may be taking or of their own responsibilities to ensure their guests don’t hit the road drunk.

About one-third of homeowners do not think or do not know if they could be held responsible in the event of an alcohol-related accident, when in fact many states do hold individuals liable, according to a national survey by Trusted Choice and the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (the Big “I”).

For the survey, homeowners were asked if they believed they were legally liable if a guest caused an alcohol-related traffic accident after leaving a holiday party at the respondent’s home. Additionally, they were questioned about the liability responsibility of a guest destroying a house with a careless act such as leaving a candle unattended or smoking indoors. Respondents were also asked if they thought they would be legally liable if a guest was injured on the sidewalk in front of their property or suffered food-poisoning from catered food while attending a holiday party at their home.

Alarming percentages of homeowners either thought they could not be held liable in these situations or admitted they didn’t know, the Big “I” says.

“With so many people throwing and attending parties between now and New Year’s, it is frightening to see such a lack of knowledge on these important issues of safety and responsibility,” says Madelyn Flannagan, Big “I” vice president for education and research. “Especially during this season, consumers need to be cautious and smart about how they celebrate.”

The survey found that about one-third of homeowners did not think or did not know if they could be held responsible in the event of an alcohol-related accident. In fact, in many states, individuals hosting holiday parties can be held liable. Many courts have found hosts liable for the damages their party guests cause as a result of consuming alcohol at their social gatherings and then driving motor vehicles. Many states have also enacted statutes that can be interpreted as mandating non-commercial social host liability. In these situations, if a guest or third party is injured in an accident that is related to alcohol consumption and the drinking can be linked to the host, the host could be held responsible for the payment of medical bills, vehicle repair costs, lost time from work and — in the worst case — claims for wrongful death resulting in huge monetary settlements.

The survey found that almost 46 percent of homeowners thought they weren’t liable in the event that a guest became seriously ill from catered food consumed at the host’s home, and about 22 percent didn’t think they could be held responsible if a guest was injured on the sidewalk in front of their property. More than one-third of homeowners either didn’t think they could be held responsible or admitted they didn’t know if they destroyed another home with a careless act. The bottom line is that homeowners could, in fact, be held responsible in any of these scenarios or accidental incidents.

Flanagan says consumers should regularly review their liability coverage limits with their independent agent to ensure they are adequately covered should an accident occur.

She also advised that it may be prudent for frequent party hosts consider an umbrella policy providing $1 million or more in additional coverage over the limit of a standard homeowners or renters policy.

The survey was conducted for Trusted Choice via telephone by International Communications Research (ICR), an independent research company in Media, Pa. Interviews of a nationally representative sample of 809 homeowners were conducted in November 2008.

More information about ICR can be obtained at http://www.icrsurvey.com.

Trusted Choice


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