By Adam W. Pittman on December 3, 2020
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Friends, neighbors, and co-workers find time to get together and host holiday festivities — from Christmas parties to New Year’s celebrations. In addition to food and entertainment, hosts often provide beer, wine, or other alcoholic drinks to their guests.
But what are the legal risks involved when you provide alcohol to your guests at a holiday party or similar get-together?
In fact, if one of your guests has too much to drink, you could be held responsible for paying damages to anybody they injure or kill in a drunk driving accident.
What is Social Host Liability?
“Social host liability” results when a host serves alcohol to a party guest who is obviously drunk, and the intoxicated guest hurts or kills another person, at the party or offsite.
The common case is when an intoxicated guest drives away from the party and wrecks into another vehicle, hurting or killing its occupants; those victims can then sue the drunk driver as well as the party host.
The laws which allow the lawsuit against the host are called “dram shop” acts. These laws were initially focused on holding bar and restaurant owners responsible for injuries to others caused by their overserving of visibly intoxicated customers.
Alabama Dram Shop Act
Almost all states have dram shop acts, but these laws vary widely as to whether they cover public places like bars, restaurants, and clubs, as well as private individuals who serve alcohol to party guests.
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For example, Alabama’s Dram Shop Act allows individuals injured by an intoxicated person to sue the drunk and any person or business that provided alcohol to the intoxicated person. The private host serving alcohol is not liable for overserving the partygoer, unless the partygoer is a minor.
Alabama also has a law known as the Civil Damages Act, which is specifically to protect minors (in Alabama, a person under the age of 19). It states that anyone providing alcohol to a minor who is subsequently hurt or killed because they are intoxicated can be sued for the injuries to, or death of, the minor. This is a very different law from the Alabama Dram Shop Act.
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No matter what the social host liability law is in your state, you owe it to yourself and your guests to make sure that your party is a safe one, and that the alcohol you serve does not become a source of tragedy or liability.
Follow these safety tips to minimize alcohol-related risks both during and after your party:
- Keep the kids away from the booze. Not only should you not serve alcohol to minors, but you should also make sure that they aren’t able to serve themselves in the middle of a hectic, crowded party.
- Hire a pro. If you’re responsible for serving drinks in addition to all of your other duties as host, or if you have an open bar, it can be hard to keep an eye on folks’ consumption and keep them from overserving. Professional bartenders are trained to spot intoxication and can help keep guests from having one too many or alert you to potential issues.
- Keep it together. The last person you want getting too drunk at your party is you. If you have too much to drink, it will make it difficult if not impossible to evaluate how your guests are doing during – and more importantly, at the end – of your party.
- Food and (non-alcoholic) drink. You’ll probably be serving food at your party, which can safely slow down the absorption of alcohol in the body. Additionally, have water and non-alcoholic drink options available so your guests can switch from booze if they want to slow down a bit or stop drinking for the night.
- Options for getting home – or staying. The biggest danger is an intoxicated party guest driving home drunk. Not only should you check and see if your guests have a designated driver in their group, but you should also have other transportation options available to them, such as Uber or Lyft. Make it clear that it’s okay for your guests to leave their cars behind, and if possible, offer your overserved guests the option of sleeping it off.
All of us at Cory Watson Attorneys extend our best wishes to our friends, clients, colleagues, and their families for a happy, safe, and joyful holiday season.
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