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Social Host Liability: Legal Tips Before Serving Alcohol at a Party

Friends raising beers to toast
By Andrew Leonatti on January 29, 2021 2:57 PM

The Super Bowl is right around the corner, and while the pandemic will certainly change or outright cancel a lot of parties, we know by now that many people will still get together.

In the excitement of being able to see your friends, it's important to remember that if you're hosting and serving alcohol, you may still have to be the "fun police." You want people to leave your party remembering what a great time they had, but you also have to make sure everyone stays safe. Although a party host can't prevent every sort of alcohol-related problem, here are some tips on how to minimize legal liability when serving alcohol to party guests.

What Is Social Host Liability?

Social host liability generally applies to situations where a person hosts a party and serves alcohol. As the host, you can face civil and criminal responsibility for any injuries caused by an intoxicated guest during or after your party.

Social host laws differ from state to state, and even some states exempt social hosts from liability. However, even if your state does not have a social host law, your city might have an ordinance in place, meaning you still have a duty to your guests and the public.

Social host liability laws are similar to dram shop laws, which hold bars and restaurants responsible for continuing to serve alcohol to drunk customers who then get behind the wheel and cause injuries.

Liability During the Party

You don't have to literally serve drinks to be considered a social host. Allowing guests to serve themselves will not absolve you from liability. If a guest gets too drunk and injures themselves or another person during your party, you can face liability.

To avoid guests getting overly intoxicated, you may want to consider playing the role of bartender, asking a trusted friend, or hiring someone. You can also make sure the bar is visible, so you can watch for guests who are refilling their glasses a little too quickly.

In addition to worrying about a drunk guest hurting someone else, you can face liability if that drunk guest hurts themself, such as by slipping and falling. If you have uneven floors, steps, stairs, or low ceilings, you may want to consider making those potentially dangerous (to a drunk person) hazards more noticeable. Putting up visible warnings might be advisable depending on your location, or you can try to confine guests to certain areas of your home. (You don't really want drunk guests wandering everywhere anyway, do you?)

Liability After the Party

Remember, your responsibility doesn't stop once someone leaves your house. Social host liability laws are particularly concerned with drunk driving accidents.

To avoid social host liability for a drunk driving guest, there are several steps you can take. You can make every guest put their car keys in a basket that only you have access to at the end of the night. That way, if a guest looks too intoxicated to drive home, you can hold their keys until their taxi or ride-share driver arrives. You can also ask several of your friends who are attending to serve as designated drivers.

If you want to go the extra yard, you can also offer up your couch or guest bedroom. Police are also likely to step up their DUI enforcement patrols on Super Bowl weekend. An extra evening of an annoying drunk friend could save you — and your friends — a lot of money and legal trouble.

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