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Social Host Liability

Throwing a party can be a lot of fun. Serving alcohol can lighten the mood and encourage guests to socialize. It's important to understand social host liability laws as a party host.

Social host liability holds homeowners responsible for serving alcohol to guests who then cause harm to others.

This article discusses what social host liability is, as well as the consequences of liability. It also addresses insurance claims as a social host and how to protect yourself from liability.

What Is Social Host Liability?

As mentioned above, social host liability holds you accountable as a homeowner if you serve alcohol to a guest who then causes harm to others. The harm can include things like car crashes or property damage. As a homeowner, you can be responsible for serving alcohol to adults and for enabling underage drinking.

Social host liability laws vary from state to state. For example, in Massachusetts, laws are strict. If a party host in Massachusetts serves alcohol to an intoxicated guest or an underage guest, they can face severe consequences.

The host can get sued for damages by the victim(s) of the intoxicated guest. This can include compensation for:

If a drunk driving accident results in a fatality, the host can face a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the victim's family.

You may also face criminal charges as a social host. This is particularly relevant if you serve alcohol to an underaged person. Under Massachusetts law, for instance, it's illegal to furnish alcohol to a person under 21 years of age. Violating this law can result in a fine of up to $2,000, imprisonment for up to a year, or both.

Consequences of Social Host Liability

Suppose you're held liable as a social host. In that case, you may have to pay compensation for personal injuries, medical expenses, property damage, or even wrongful death resulting from an alcohol-related accident caused by your intoxicated guest.

Here's how you might end up paying for various kinds of damages:

  1. Personal injury: If your drunken guest causes an accident that injures someone, you could be responsible for that person's pain, suffering, and any permanent injuries they get. This typically gets paid in a lump sum or installments over some time
  2. Medical expenses: If the injured person has medical bills from the accident — like the cost of ambulance rides, hospital stays, surgeries, medication, or therapy — you may have to reimburse those costs
  3. Property damage: If your guest causes an accident that damages someone's property (like a car or a house), you could be responsible for the cost of repairing or replacing that property
  4. Wrongful death: If your guest causes an accident that results in someone's death, you could be liable for a variety of costs. These could include the victim's medical bills and funeral costs, the loss of the victim's expected income, and the survivors' mental anguish or loss of companionship

These liabilities can add up to large sums of money. If you face legal action, seek legal advice from an experienced personal injury attorney to guide you.

Insurance Claims as a Social Host

As a social host, you may also have to face liability claims from insurance companies. If you're at fault in a lawsuit, that outcome can have long-term effects on your homeowner's insurance policy. You may have to pay higher insurance premiums, since insurers may deem you a higher risk. Sometimes, your insurance company might cancel your policy altogether if the insurer believes the risk of insuring you is too high.

To avoid these issues, thoroughly review your homeowner's insurance policy to understand what's covered. It might be wise to consider adding a personal liability umbrella policy. This type of policy can offer broader protection, including some situations involving social host liability.

Protecting Yourself from Liability

The most effective way to protect yourself from social host liability is by monitoring alcohol consumption at your events, particularly when it comes to drunken or underage guests. Avoid serving alcohol to anyone who appears intoxicated or is under the legal drinking age.

Instead of an open bar, consider serving only a limited quantity of alcoholic beverages. Or hire a professional bartender who's trained to recognize signs of intoxication and can refuse service to drunken guests or underage attendees.

It's also a good idea to offer guests non-alcoholic beverages and encourage them to designate a sober driver or use rideshare services to get home safely. If underage guests will be attending your party, it's even more important to prevent their access to alcohol. Preventive measures could involve:

  • Checking IDs
  • Having separate areas for underage guests and those over 21
  • Opting not to serve alcohol if many guests are underage

You could also host your party at a restaurant or bar that has its own liquor license. These establishments have their own insurance and trained staff.

Get the Legal Help You Need

Perhaps you're considering throwing a huge party on your property and want to protect yourself from liability. Or you suffered injuries in a car accident with an intoxicated person shortly after the person left a party at someone else's house and want to know who you can sue. Contact a local attorney today to get answers to your questions.

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