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You Could be Held Responsible Under “Social Host Liability”

24 Dec
Dinner party at a Mandarin's house.

Image via Wikipedia

Having a Holiday Party?

Having the Whole family over for Christmas Eve Dinner? You could be held responsible under “Social Host Liability”.

I do not want to be the Grinch of Christmas but we don’t want our Christmas surprise to come in the form of a lawsuit. Most of us are aware of business’s legal requirements to stop serving alcohol to people who are visibly intoxicated. This is especially true for those insureds in the business of serving alcohol. What we are not as aware of is the liability we assume by serving liquor in a social setting referred to as “social host” liability. Or when a business is NOT in the business of serving liquor but does so occasionally or incidentally which is referred to as host liquor liability.

Let’s deal first with “social host” liquor liability. We become a social host whenever we are hosting an event that serves liquor be it a dinner party for another couple or putting on a wedding in our backyard. Examples of “social host” liability could be cases where our guest gets intoxicated and hurts themselves or causes injury to others; or the situation where our guest leaves our party and is involved in an accident as a drunk driver. Or, it could be a guest that leaves your party and is stopped and ticketed for drunk driving. I know you might be thinking “my friend…my brother in law would never sue me”. Surprise! They will.

State laws differ as relates “social host” liability and not all states recognize social host liability. However there are some guidelines as to when a host serving liquor can be held liable:
-The host did, in fact, provide or serve liquor to the individual in question
-The individual was intoxicated and caused either bodily injury or property damage to a third-party
-The host was aware or “should have been aware” that their guest was intoxicated

We cannot have this discussion without broaching the topic of parents who provide alcohol to minors in their homes—who become “social hosts” to under aged people. It may be that they do not serve the liquor to the minors but make it available or they allow alcohol to be brought in their home by their children’s friends. Some parents use a thought process that goes something like this: I would rather my child drink at home than attend a party and either drive home drunk or ride with someone who has been drinking. And here is the flaw in that thought process while you think you are providing a safe haven to your child, your friend’s parents may not share your same philosophy and, in fact, you have contributed to the delinquency of a minor. If that child gets hurt or hurts others and you contributed to that harm by providing alcohol, you will be named in the ensuing lawsuit and you may find yourself being held liable. And where’s the coverage to protect you, the loving parent, for the lawsuit? The Homeowners Policy? The Umbrella Policy? And the answer is check the policy. While the Homeowner’s Policy may not have a specific liquor exclusion, most policies will have an “expected or intended injury exclusion”.

The ISO 2000 edition says the following:
E.1. Expected or Intended Injury “Bodily injury” or “property damage” which is expected or intended by an “insured” even if the resulting “bodily injury” or “property damage”:

a. Is of a different kind, quality or degree than initially expected or      intended; or
b. Is sustained by a different person, entity, real or personal property, than initially expected or intended.

Could this exclusion be broad enough to remove coverage for the parents? Perhaps it could. Could you then look to the Personal Umbrella? Better read the form. Some forms have a liquor exclusion that applies when serving liquor to a minor.

Let’s talk for a moment about a business that occasionally or incidentally serves liquor. The Christmas season is the perfect time for this discussion. We go to our hairdressers and they offer us a glass of wine, or eggnog with a little bourbon. The office that decides rather than taking everyone to an expensive restaurant will have pizza and beer brought into the office for the big celebration. Is there coverage on the Commercial General Liability Policy for the liability of the business in these situations? Are these businesses in the “business of serving liquor”? The CGL provides automatic coverage as the exclusion only applies if the named insured is the business of manufacturing, selling, serving or furnishing alcoholic beverages. The result of this language is that a business typically has coverage for these “social” situations involving liquor.

~Laurie

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One response to “You Could be Held Responsible Under “Social Host Liability”

  1. Brent Kelly

    December 24, 2011 at 8:11 am

    Great tips. Thanks for sharing.

     

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