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Social Hosting Liability

Hosting parties is very popular during the winter holiday season. Many people, however, do not need a holiday to get together and share a few drinks. When these social gatherings occur in a person’s home, the host often provides both food and drinks. If you are hosting such a party, you may be wondering what your civil liability is for the actions of a drunk guest, whether it occurs during or after the party.

For example, imagine that you have a large party at your home . You invite a large number of people, including relatives, friends and neighbors, with almost everyone attending. It will not take very long for your home to be full of people who barely know each other. In these situations, it is not uncommon for alcohol to be consumed in greater quantities as a social lubricant. Luckily, you purchased enough alcohol for everyone to have a great time. Unfortunately, with the party being so large, you do not have enough time to spend with each of your guests. In fact, you are unable to check each guest’s level of intoxication before they leave and, in some cases, you do not even realize some people left. Then after the party has ended and everyone has left, you receive a telephone call that one of your party guests was intoxicated and involved in a car accident on their way home.

In New York, a social host cannot be held liable if a party guest injures someone else or causes property damage. While you may not necessarily be liable in a civil suit, that does not mean that you can serve alcohol without consequence. In New York, you may still be liable in some cases if you knowingly served alcohol to a party guest that is already intoxicated. Similarly, you may face criminal charges for providing alcohol to someone who is already intoxicated or to a minor if the minor has a sufficient blood alcohol concentration. In fact, the minor does not even need to cause any damage or injure anyone for a social host to face criminal charges, because it is illegal in New York to provide alcohol to minors.

For example, several months ago two Long Island parents were arrested after they allowed teens to drink in their basement. A 16-year-old girl left the party on foot, clearly intoxicated and was struck by a car as she tried to cross a parkway. She was killed. Even though the homeowners did not provide the alcohol, they still face criminal charges for allowing the teens to drink in their home.

For those looking to host parties, but avoid any chance of being held liable, there are a few steps you can take:
• Never allow minors to be served alcohol • Encourage guests to drink responsibly or use designated drivers • Hire a professional bartender to serve drinks and refuse alcohol to those too intoxicated • Provide transportation or lodging to guests that are unable to drive home