It’s hard to host a Hollywood-worthy Oscars party without festive drinks and at least a little champagne.
But if you’re inviting friends over to watch the awards ceremony on Feb. 24, experts advise using caution to avoid an unfortunate show-stopper known as “social-host liability.”
Laws differ from state to state, but the basic idea is that if someone drinks too much at your party — and you didn’t try to curb it — you could be held liable for any off-script incidents.
Social host liability 101: Some basic things to know
The Oscars may be without a host this year, but for the rest of us, the host is the one in charge if things go south.
Incidents involving social host liability laws fall into two categories: First-party and third party.
Simply speaking, if your guest has way too many cosmopolitans and runs into a tree down the street, a first-party law would allow him to sue you personally for his injuries. If he hits your neighbor’s car, third-party laws would allow your neighbor — not your guest — to sue you.
The good news (for party hosts, anyway) is that most states don’t subscribe to first-party liability, meaning the person downing those whiskey sours is responsible for his own behavior. An obvious exception is an underage party guest, in which case the host would absolutely face civil and possible criminal issues.
Consult your state law before laying down the law
How much liability you could face by offering an open bar at your party depends on where you live.
In some states, you needn’t worry unless you intentionally or knowingly over-served a guest. In others, you could have simply left too much alcohol within their reach.
Did you pour the alcohol into glasses, which is consider “active” service? Or did you create a “passive” service by setting up the bar for self-service? Depending on your state’s laws, it matters in the event of a lawsuit.
FindLaw lists some of the details of each state’s laws.
For example, states with social host liability laws applicable only to minors are Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Utah and Wyoming.
Those with laws that apply to guests of all ages are Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin.
Also, check any municipal ordinances regarding social host liability. Some cites have enacted their own ordinances separate from state laws.
Consider upping your amount of liability insurance
Suppose you roll out the red carpet and cocktails, and the unthinkable happens?
Your homeowner’s policy may give you protection under its liability clause, but that’s only if you have the right insurance policy and your limits are sufficient. A limit of $100,000 to $300,000 may seem like plenty, but calculate the value of your home and assets before making your decision.
Also, if you max your homeowners liability policy, an umbrella policy could step in and add $1 million over and above it. This is something to consider if you enjoy entertaining, since the extra coverage usually runs a few hundred more per year.
An award-winning party checklist
To help avoid an unfortunate party aftermath, here are some suggestions to consider:
- Make certain anyone drinking alcohol is of legal drinking age, which is 21 in all U.S. states.
- Serve food and offer non-alcoholic beverages at your party. Don’t rush to refill drinks or pressure guests into drinking more.
- Have a cab or rideshare service number handy and ready your guest room or couch, just in case.
- Consider an off-site venue such as a restaurant or bar licensed to serve alcohol.
- Encourage a designated driver for guests who are drinking.
- Stay relatively sober yourself, so as host, you will make better decisions later in the evening regarding who is capable of driving.
- Consider hiring a professional bartender trained in spotting and limiting intoxicated guests.
Jason Hargraves is the managing editor of insuranceQuotes.com — which publishes in-depth studies, data and analysis related to auto, home, health, life and business insurance—where he studies the insurance industry in order to direct and oversee the management of editorial content that provides trusted tips, advice and insights for consumers.
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