The law of “Social Host Liability” may find the party-giver legally responsible for a multitude of alcohol-problems, so the host should prepare and protect himself and his guests.
Holiday parties are among us, and soon enough, the Super Bowl will be here.
Social hosts bear a safety responsibility to their guests, be they friends, family, or employees. This responsibility takes top billing, and falls before wanting those guests to have fun. A host cannot prevent every possible alcohol related problem, exercising caution however, and planning, can prevent many problems, and can shield the host from being legally responsible if something does go wrong.
Social host liability applies to situations where someone hosts a party or social gathering, such as a holiday party or office party, and where alcohol is being served. The host can be legally responsible for the injuries of guests and third parties caused by a guest who became intoxicated during or even after the party.
Responsibility can be both civil and criminal.
Responsibility can fall on 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, the parents are serving the alcohol. As well, there are laws against serving alcohol to underage guests.
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 responsibility laws are based on negligence. There is a duty to guests and the public to prevent harm. The way that is done is to prevent guests from becoming intoxicated, which in turn prevents the events that an intoxicated person could create that would cause the harm.
A “breach” of the duty that results in harm renders the host responsible.
The law is clear in this area and includes placing responsibility on a host who knew, or should have known that a guest is intoxicated and will soon get behind the wheel, but does nothing to stop that guest from driving drunk.
Here are some tips on preventing problems.
Designate a server, or even hire someone. Assure the server monitors the guests who are drinking and does not serve anyone who appears even slightly affected.
Allowing guests to serve themselves is a very bad idea, and it does not absolve the host from responsibility.
Make sure the bar or table with the alcoholic beverages is “out in the open” so that everyone can see everyone else and monitor everyone else. 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, and the host should be the only one who gives those keys to departing guests. 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 so for intoxicated guests tripping and falling, and injuring 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 at the home were not at home. A young man became intoxicated, got into his car with another teen at the party, and swerved off a road, hit a tree, and died. The friend suffered significant permanent injuries. The parents of the child who gave the party were held both civilly and criminally responsible.
There is a ripple effect to driving while intoxicated and other alcohol related problems. An entire community suffered and long mourned the loss of a wonderful young man. The young man’s parents still mourn. The injured friend still struggles and will for the rest of his life.
Parties can be great fun. Romances can blossom. Business deals can be made. Watch the alcohol and live to tell about and enjoy all of them post-party.