If you're planning this year's Christmas or New Year's get together at your home, there's a good chance there'll be plenty of alcoholic beverages on hand to bring in the yuletide cheer. If a partygoer decides to drive home while he or she is still intoxicated, you could find yourself responsible for any accidents that occur as a result.
Understanding Social-Host Liability
Many states have "social-host liability" laws that hold hosts responsible for any injuries or damages caused by an intoxicated driver after one leaves the party. The intent behind these laws is to encourage party hosts to act responsibly and help prevent intoxicated guests from putting themselves and others in danger.
For the most part, social-host liability laws operate similarly to dram-shop laws governing bars and retail outlets selling or serving alcohol. In some states, the same dram-shop laws that apply to businesses also apply to social hosts.
Understanding What Happens When You're Held Responsible
In the case of bartenders and other licensed servers, those who continue to provide alcohol to intoxicated patrons or do nothing to prevent them from driving home drunk are subject to various administrative and criminal penalties. These penalties may include suspension or revocation of their liquor licenses as well as jail time in some extreme cases.
Social hosts, on the other hand, are usually subject to lawsuits and other civil penalties. In most cases, you'll end up being sued by the person who was injured or had their property damaged by one of your intoxicated guests. If a fatality is involved, then you may be sued by the family of the person who was killed by your intoxicated guest.
Criminal charges aimed at social hosts are relatively rare, as they require proof beyond a reasonable doubt of a host's responsibility for their intoxicated guests. This proof may include pressuring guests to drink or serving alcoholic drinks to already intoxicated partygoers.
Keep in mind that you're not responsible for an intoxicated partygoer injuring his or her self, in most cases. It's only when a third party is injured by an intoxicated driver (such as another driver or a passenger of the intoxicated driver) that you become liable.
Knowing Ways You Can Protect Yourself
In addition to understanding the laws surrounding social-host liability for your state, there are plenty of other things you can do to limit your liability and promote a responsible drinking environment:
Host parties away from home - Using a venue such as a bar or a restaurant with a liquor license can help reduce or eliminate your liability.
Serve food and non-alcoholic beverages to counter the effects of alcohol - Partygoers are more likely to become intoxicated sooner if they drink on an empty stomach. Serving food and non-alcoholic drinks can help curb some of these effects.
Have a professional bartender serve alcoholic beverages - A trained bartender has a better understanding of where a person's alcoholic limits are and when to stop serving partygoers.
Encourage partygoers to have a designated driver - Intoxicated guests should have someone sober who can drive them home.
Call a cab for those too drunk to drive - If there aren't any cabs available, you can have your intoxicated guests stay at your home overnight until the effects of the alcohol wear off.
It's also a good idea to contact your homeowner's insurance provider and ask about any exclusions or limitations involving social-host situations where alcohol is present. Many providers offer some form of liquor liability coverage, although most come with low liability limits (usually between $100,000 and $300,000). Some providers offer special-event insurance, which are intended for weddings and other large events. These policies usually offer higher liability limits than liquor liability coverage.
Talk to a DUI attorney for more information.