As we enter the fall season, football and holiday parties will become more frequent. If a guest you served alcohol to injures someone in a drunk driving accident, you could be opening yourself up to legal trouble.

The legal term is social host responsibility, and the consequences are serious.

Kentucky Bar Fined for Overserving Guest

Earlier this year, a Lexington bar reached a plea deal for serving too much alcohol to a man who later caused a wrong-way crash – tragically killing a family of five.

The deal included pleading guilty to a charge of overserving an intoxicated person, a $10,000 fine, and a 10-day suspension from serving alcohol. The bar staff were also retrained and completed certification on responsible alcohol service.

Later, relatives of the family that lost their lives filed a separate lawsuit against the establishment, seeking compensation for the loss of their loved ones.

What Does the Law Say About Serving Alcohol to Others?

Under Kentucky law, businesses licensed to sell alcohol assume legal responsibility “when a reasonable person under the same or similar circumstances should know that the person served is intoxicated at the time of serving.” This is called a dram shop law.

In other words, it’s not the number of drinks that counts; it’s up to the servers to make the determination of drunkenness based upon the behavior of the person.

For example, if the person is slurring their speech or having difficulty standing, that person should not be served any more alcohol. Nor should they be allowed to operate a motor vehicle.

What Does the Law Say About My Responsibility As a Party Host?

If you’re hosting a private party, you owe it to yourself to take steps to protect yourself legally and to ensure the safety of your guests. This goes for parties and gatherings held in private homes, and businesses that host corporate social functions as well

Although dram shop laws say businesses licensed to sell alcohol assume some legal responsibility, social host liability extends to anyone who provides alcohol to guests.

Social host responsibility can be divided into two categories:

  • First-Party Social Host: the person injured is the same person who drank too much.
  • Third-Party Social Host: the case is filed by a person injured by your drunk guest.

While social host liability laws are not recognized in every state, just about anyone injured on your property while drinking can at the very least file a personal injury lawsuit against you.

How Can I Protect Myself As a Party Host?

For starters, check your homeowners’ insurance policy. Most provide some form of coverage for alcohol liability. If yours does not, it’s worth the effort to get a policy that does.

Here are a few proactive steps you can take to limit your legal liability as a party host.

  • Consider hosting your party at a place with a liquor license (bar or restaurant) rather than your home.
  • Announce the ending time of the party well in advance and stop serving alcohol one hour before the party ends.
  • Invest in hiring a professional bartender, and make sure they’re trained to recognize the signs of when someone has had too much to drink.
  • Keep the bar section in your line of vision so that attendees under the age of 21 are less likely to sneak a drink.
  • Encourage certain guests to serve as designated drivers who can provide a way home for those drank too much.
  • Encourage the use of apps for ride-sharing services (Uber, Lyft, etc.).
  • Provide guest rooms to those who are obviously drunk.
  • Make every effort to stay sober yourself, so that you’re in a better position to monitor to condition of your guests.
  • Do not push drinks on guests.

If you’re not careful, you could be sued and even face criminal charges for if your guests drive drunk.

How Do I Know If a Guest Has Had Too Much to drink?

Everyone is different, but there are a few telltale signs that will let you know when someone has had too much to drink.

  • Loss of balance
  • Slurred, loud or fast speech
  • Eyes appearing glossy
  • Increased sweating

Always make sure your guests are able to drive before letting them hit the road.

Remember This…

Whether you’re enjoying a small get-together with friends and a few cocktails, a barbeque for the neighborhood, a company holiday gathering, or a Super Bowl party, just a bit of planning and precaution can go a long way in protecting yourself legally.

If a drunk driving accident occurs, it may not just be the driver who gets in trouble. Whether you were behind the wheel or behind the bar, you may need to consult with an attorney.