Who is liable if a holiday guest gets food poisoning or drives home drunk? As millions of Americans host and attend holiday parties across the street and across the country, many may be unaware of the risks they may be taking. Party hosts need to understand their responsibilities when inviting people into their homes and serving food and drinks.
- Do your homework. When hosting a holiday party, you should look to the liability portion of your homeowners or renters insurance policy to protect you if you are sued and found liable for an accident involving a guest who consumed alcohol or got sick after consuming food at your home. Make sure you regularly review their liability coverage limits to ensure they are adequately covered should an accident or illness occur.
- Watch what you eat and feed others. Even if food was prepared outside your home by a caterer, another guest, a local deli or the neighborhood pizza joint, you could be held liable if someone becomes ill from consuming it on your property. Make sure that you check food and don’t put anything out that you suspect may be undercooked, spoiled or contaminated. Use only reputable food purveyors. Follow proper food handling, heating/cooling and storage recommendations. When in doubt, throw it out.
- Know your state laws and statutes. In many states, party hosts can be held liable if a guest is involved in an alcohol-related accident. Many courts have found hosts liable for damages their party guests cause as a result of consuming alcohol and then driving motor vehicles. Many states have also enacted statutes that can be interpreted as mandating non-commercial social host liability.
So, if a guest or third party is injured in an accident that is related to alcohol consumption and the drinking can be linked to you, you could be held responsible for the payment of medical bills, vehicle repair costs, lost time from work and—in the worst case—claims for wrongful death resulting in huge monetary settlements.
- Mix up the activities, not just the cocktails. If the party centers around drinking, guests will likely drink more. Schedule entertainment or activities that do not involve alcohol. Provide safe, filling food for guests and alternatives to alcoholic beverages.
- Party elsewhere. Host your party at a restaurant or bar that has a liquor license, rather than in a home or office, to decrease your liability.
- Call a cab, get a room or have a slumber party. Arrange transportation or overnight accommodations for those who cannot or should not drive home.
- Just say no. Do not serve guests who are visibly intoxicated. Stop serving alcohol at least one hour before the party is scheduled to end. Stay alert and always remember your responsibilities as a host. You might also consider hiring an off-duty police officer or professional bouncer to discreetly monitor guests’ sobriety or handle any alcohol-related problems as guests leave.
- Consider an umbrella policy. While holiday partygoers and hosts alike should act responsibly and know their limits, consumers need to acknowledge that most risks cannot be entirely eliminated. But planning ahead and learning about what’s involved in hosting a reception is the best defense. Purchasing a personal umbrella liability policy—providing $1 million or more in additional coverage over the limit of a standard homeowners or renters policy—may be a prudent move for the frequent party host.