As you make preparations for your Super Bowl party, be sure to include plans to keep your guests safe if they have too much to drink. It's a win-win because in states with social-host liability laws, the host of a party can be held liable if a guest drinks too much and later causes damage or injury someone else.
The theory behind social-host liability laws is that if someone drinks too much alcohol at your party, you should have stopped him or her, therefore, you could also be held liable for anything that goes wrong once a person leaves your home. In other words, you shared the negligence, so you share the responsibility.
The details differ according to each state’s law, but according to FindLaw.com, 27 states have specific regulations on the books that would hold you accountable if someone overindulges at your house and then gets in trouble once they leave.
What are social-host liablity laws?
According to Nolo.com, social-host liability laws fall into two categories: first-party laws and third-party laws.
A first-party social-host liability law would cover injuries or damages suffered by the person who was served the alcoholic drinks. This would include a case where someone got drunk, left your house, and then ran into a tree down the block. A first-party law would allow them to sue you personally for their injuries.
However, most states don’t allow this kind of liability because the person who accepted the drinks was primarily negligent for himself or herself to overindulge, leaving you largely off the hook.
The exception to first-party liability is in the cases of minors. In the case of serving alcohol to someone underage, you could absolutely be held responsible for first-party claims.
Third-party social-host liability laws say that if someone other than the person you served is injured or suffers damages, then you also carry liability.
So, for example, in this kind of case let’s say that drunk guest goes and runs into your neighbor’s car as they are pulling into their driveway. In states with third-party laws, the guest couldn’t sue you, but your neighbor could.
The details of each state’s law varies, though.
For example, some states limit your liability to cases of recklessness, or where you intentionally or knowingly over-served someone.
In other states, in addition to your liability for recklessness, you are also held liable in cases of negligence, or where you may not have directly know someone was intoxicated, but you should have known better than to continue to serve them.
Should you actively or passively serve alcohol?
Some laws specifically apply to cases where you are actively serving the alcohol, while other laws include “passive” service, such as when you merely make the drinks available and the guests serve themselves.
And remember, in most states with social host liability laws, the law is especially harsh when it comes to minors — so make sure you are extra diligent when it comes to anyone under the legal drinking age.
FindLaw lists some of the details of each state’s laws:
States with social host liability laws applicable to guests of all ages:
- New Jersey
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
States with social host liability laws applicable only to minors:
- New Hampshire
So, what can you do if you are unfortunate enough to get slammed with a social-host liability lawsuit? According to the Insurance Information Institute, homeowners insurance policies do offer some protection under their liability clause. However, make sure you have the right insurance coverage and that your liability limits are sufficient to protect your assets.
A liability limit of between $100,000 and $300,000 may sound like a lot, but if you consider the value of your home and other assets, you may want to make sure you have a higher limit.
If you max out your homeowners liability policy, an umbrella policy could step in and give you further protection. Most umbrella policies can add $1 million in liability coverage over and above what your homeowners policy offers, and that extra coverage is only a few hundred dollars a year.
But, it’s best not to get sued in the first place. And in that spirit, the Insurance Information Institute offers a few common-sense tips for limiting your liability as you prepare to host that next big party:
- Host the party at an off-site venue, such as a restaurant or bar that is licensed to serve the alcohol
- Hire a professional bartender who is trained at spotting intoxicated people
- Encourage everyone to have a designated driver who will refrain from drinking altogether and then is responsible for getting people home safely
- Stay (relatively) sober – as the host, you will make better decisions if you aren’t intoxicated yourself
- Serve food and have non-alcoholic beverages available for your guests
- Don’t rush to refill your guests’ drinks or pressure them to drink more than they are comfortable with
- Call a cab or a rideshare for anyone who is too drunk or tired to safely drive home
- Offer your couch and let them sleep it off at your home if all else fails
So, before you send out the invites to cheer on the Super Bowl champs (and enjoy the commercials, of course), make sure to make a plan for how to get your guests home safely.