Will you be having a party in your home this holiday season? If your celebration will include alcoholic beverages, here’s something to consider while you’re planning the menu: Social host liability laws and their potential impact on your homeowner’s insurance.
Simply put, social host liability extends the responsibility for damages from over-drinking to the person who provided the drinks. If you’re the host and it’s your home, you could be liable whether you actually poured the drinks or not. And the first target for any claims will be your homeowner’s insurance policy.
Standard policies typically have a $100,000 limit on liability. That won’t go far if you’re sued for medical expenses or major property damages. Many experts recommend increasing liability limits to at least $300,000, or even $500,000. It’s relatively inexpensive in terms of monthly premiums. If you stand to lose a lot in a lawsuit, you might even want to look into an umbrella policy, which can provide supplemental liability protection up to $1million.Talk to your insurance agent to see what he or she recommends.
The social host laws differ depending on where you live, but they’re on the books in a majority of U.S. states. In some states, you could be liable for injuries to a guest who drank too much at your home, then drove and caused an accident, as well as any passengers in that guest’s car and any damages and injuries that guest does to other drivers, their passengers, property and pedestrians. In other states your liability is limited to injuries your over-served guest sustains while in your home or on your property. Here again, your insurance agent will be able to provide specifics about the laws in your state.
Of course, all 50 states make it illegal to serve alcohol on your property to anyone under 21 (exceptions include religious purposes), even if it happened while you weren’t home. The fines can goes as high as $2,500 per offense or even jail time. If you’ve got teenagers, that’s a good reason to invest in a liquor cabinet with a very good lock.
If all of this makes you want to limit your party beverages to water and soda, there are some better ways to stay on the right side of social host liability laws and still imbibe responsibly.
• Don’t let your guests mix or pour their own drinks. Hire a bartender and insist that he or she cut off any guest who’s had too much.
• Never force refills on anyone.
• Collect car keys as guests arrive and only return them to departing guests who are sober enough to drive.
Otherwise, call them a cab, drive them home yourself or insist that they spend the night.
• Serve plenty of food and offer non-alcoholic beverages.
Do you have any terrific non-alcoholic party drinks or mocktails that are hits with your guests?