Your responsibilities when serving alcohol to guests

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Your responsibilities when serving alcohol to guests

We all attend social functions from time to time, and occasionally it’s our turn to play host.  From wedding showers to housewarmings, holiday parties and neighborhood gatherings, we’ve all hosted social events in our home, and it’s not uncommon for alcohol to be served during these get-togethers.

When hosting parties and events, however, the host is responsible for much more than just the food, drinks and atmosphere. They’re also responsible for the safety and wellbeing of their guests, and that’s something alcohol can easily compromise if abused.

With this in mind, it’s crucial for a host to understand what exactly he or she is responsible for when alcohol is involved.

When serving alcohol, what are my legal responsibilities?

Laws regarding a host’s liability to his or her guests when alcohol is served varies by state.  In some states, the host carries no burden of liability to his or her guests when serving alcohol in his or her home.  In other states, the host is only at risk if he or she deliberately and recklessly over-serves a guest who then causes harm to himself or another guest, or gets behind the wheel of a car and causes an accident or destroys or damages property.

Ultimately, the one law that is universal across all states and jurisdictions regarding liability of a social host is the illegality of serving alcohol to a minor.  Still, 37 of 50 states in the U.S. have some form of social host law in place, meaning hosts carry some amount of liability in most parts of the country.

What precautions can I take?

Although the focus of your party should be on entertaining your guest and making sure they have a good time, there are many things you can do to make sure your guests are safe and lessen the possibility that you’ll be held responsible for a guest’s actions after drinking too much.

  • First and foremost, make sure you do not serve alcohol to minors. The legal drinking age is 21 years old in all 50 states.
  • Choose to host your party at a restaurant or other public venue that is licensed to serve alcohol. Professional waiters and bartenders will politely cut off any guest that they perceive has had enough to drink and is impaired.  This shifts the burden of serving alcohol away from you, the host, and allows professionals to monitor everyone’s alcohol intake and ensure that no one is over-served.
  • Always serve both plenty and a good variety of food during the party.
  • Stop serving alcohol and begin serving only soft drinks, coffee, or tea at least one hour before the party ends.
  • Encourage your guests to appoint designated drivers before they come to the party to ensure that they will be able to arrive home safely.
  • Take away the car keys of those you feel will be a danger to themselves or others if they drive. Call a cab for those who have had too much to drink, or be willing to have guests stay overnight at your home.

Business situations

Many states impose liability when an employer hosts an event for a business-related purpose.  While laws vary greatly, state to state, an employer host generally has a greater duty to his/her employee guests.  This is due to the feeling that an employee feels obligated to attend an office party or other business-related event.

How can this affect my insurance?

Some, but not all, homeowner’s insurance policies will provide coverage when social host laws come into play, but many times the result of social host cases will exceed the limit of a homeowner’s policy.  It might be a good idea to have a personal umbrella policy in place. A personal umbrella policy will supplement your other personal insurance policies, like home and auto insurance, and will go into effect when the liability limits on those policies are reached.

Essentially, it’s an insurance policy on top of your other insurance policies, and it will ensure that even if social host laws exhaust your homeowner’s policy, you won’t pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for the reckless behavior of a guest in your home.  An umbrella policy is often very affordable, usually costing policyholders less than $1 per day.

Contact Foundation Insurance Group

Our experienced professionals are always happy to review your insurance policies and make suggestions to protect you, your property, and loved ones, while limiting your exposures.  Contact us today.  Remember…A little prevention can go a long way and may even save someone’s life.

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