WASHINGTON, December 11, 2016 — “Social Host Liability” laws enacted in most states may find a party-giver legally responsible for a multitude of alcohol-related problems. For that reason, the host of a party should always prepare beforehand to protect both himself and his guests, particularly during this time of the year. Holiday Parties abound in December, and soon enough, the Super Bowl and related festivities will be upon us.
Social hosts bear a responsibility for the safety of their guests, be they friends, family, or employees. This responsibility takes top billing, and has priority even before the host’s desire that his or her guests have fun. While a host cannot prevent every possible alcohol related problem, advance planning for such eventualities and exercising caution can prevent many problems and can also shield the host from being legally responsible if something does go wrong.
From a legal standpoint, social host liability applies to situations where someone hosts a party or social gathering—such as a holiday party or office party—where alcohol is being served. The host of such a party can be legally responsible for the injuries incurred by guests and third parties that are caused by a guest who became intoxicated during or even after the party.
The social host’s responsibility can be both civil and criminal.
Social responsibility can also fall upon parents whose underage children host a part in their home, whether or not the parents are actually present at the party, and whether or not—even if they are present—the parents are serving the alcohol. There are laws as well that prohibit serving alcohol to underage guests.
A host’s liability extends to include business owner hosts who give private or business parties in private rooms, in office environments and even in places like restaurants or private clubs where the host pays for and controls the flow of alcohol.
These social responsibility laws are based on the concept of negligence. On the part of the host, there is a duty to guests and the public to prevent harm. The way that is duty is discharged is to prevent guests from becoming intoxicated. That, in turn, can serve to prevent the actions or events an intoxicated person could undertake or precipitate that would cause the harm. A “breach” or failure on the part of the host to live up to this duty that results in harm renders the host responsible.
The law is clear in this area. That includes placing legal responsibility on a host who knew, or should have known that a guest is intoxicated and will soon get behind the wheel, yet does nothing to stop that guest from driving drunk.
Here are some tips on preventing problems at your next party:
- Designate a server or bartender for the party, or even hire someone in that capacity. Assure that the server monitors the guests who are drinking and does not serve anyone who appears even slightly affected by alcohol.
- Understand that allowing guests to serve themselves is a very bad idea, and does not absolve the host from responsibility.
- Make sure the bar or table displaying the alcoholic beverages being offered is “out in the open” so that everyone can see everyone else and monitor what everyone else is doing. Hosts should tell guests at the beginning of the party that they are all going to help watch each other, that this is a family or community and that “we don’t want our family to get hurt.”
- A host should put everyone’s car keys in a basket that only the host has access to. In addition, the host should be the only one who gives those keys back to departing guests. To back up this safety procedure, the telephone number of a taxi or alternate ride service should be available and posted on a doorway exit.
- Hosts can be responsible and have been found to be responsible for intoxicated guests who trip, fall and injure themselves; for intoxicated guests causing automobile accidents; and for injuries from fighting.
My daughter attended a graduation party at the home of one of her high-school classmates many years ago. The parents were not at home for the party. A young man became intoxicated at the event, got into his car with another teen from the party and swerved off a road, hit a tree, resulting in his death. The friend suffered significant permanent injuries as a result of that accident. The parents of the child who gave the party were held both civilly and criminally responsible.
There is a ripple effect stemming from accidents caused by driving while intoxicated and other alcohol related problems. In this case, an entire community suffered and long mourned the loss of a wonderful young man. That young man’s parents still mourn. The injured friend still struggles and will do so for the rest of his life.
Parties can be great fun. Romances can blossom. Business deals can be made. But if you are hosting a party, watch the alcohol consumption, and make sure that you and your guests live to tell about and continue to enjoy each other’s company long after your party has come to a successful—and safe—conclusion.
Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980. He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website.
His book “The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You” can be instantly downloaded, for free, on his website: http://www.samakowlaw.com/book.
Samakow has now also started a small business consulting firm. His new book “Step By Step, Achieve Small Business Success” is available at www.thebusinessanswer.com.