Updated June 4, 2021
Reading time: 7 minutes
’Tis the season for holiday gatherings. The coronavirus has upended many people’s traditional holiday plans, so if you find yourself hosting family and friends for the first time this holiday season, you won’t be alone.
But before you start creating festive cocktails for your Halloween hoedown or thirsty Thanksgiving, it’s important to know the ins and outs of your local social host liability laws and your homeowners insurance or renters insurance policy’s personal liability coverage.
If that sounds like a bunch of legal mumbo jumbo, don’t worry. Insurify is here to clear up your questions and help you secure your liability protection so you can get back to being the host with the most in no time.
Social host liability definitions vary from state to state, and you should know your state’s social host liquor liability laws before serving alcohol at your next home gathering. Some states have no social host laws, and some states even have laws protecting hosts from being held liable if an intoxicated guest causes injury or death.
But in states which enforce social host liability, the laws fall under one of two categories: general social host liability laws and social host laws that apply to minors. This means that in states with general social host liability laws if a drunk driver of any age injures a third party, the injured party may be able to sue the driver as well as the host of the gathering where the driver became intoxicated. But in most states with general social host laws, a host can only be held liable for damages an intoxicated adult guest causes if the host served alcohol to said guest while they were already obviously intoxicated.
In states where social host liability is specific to providing minors with alcohol, a host can only be held liable for damages if the driver was underage. But in some cases, a host can be charged for supplying a minor with alcohol whether they cause harm or not. Typically, though, these laws allow injured parties to pursue civil charges against the perpetrator and the host. In some cases, this can lead to criminal charges as well.
Still, each state’s social host laws have specifications. Some states offer more protections for social hosts. States like Ohio, Wyoming, and Texas allow minors to drink alcohol if an adult family member allows it or is present. Social hosts in Georgia are only liable for damage caused by intoxicated guests if the host knew the guest would be driving. Accident victims in New Mexico can only sue social hosts if they can prove the host provided alcohol “recklessly in disregard of the rights of others, including the social guest.” Oregon hosts are only liable for damages that their guests cause if it can be proven that the guest was already intoxicated when the host served them alcohol, and as long as the injured party was not responsible for the assailant’s intoxication.
Other states have strict social host laws, aiming to protect intoxicated guests as well as any third parties a drunk guest may injure. In New Hampshire, intoxicated guests who injure themselves can sue their hosts if they can prove the hosts’ negligence. Hosts in Montana are liable for any damages their guests cause if the intoxicated adult was forced or coerced into drinking. Similarly, if someone in South Carolina encourages or allows excessive drinking—whether the host or not—they can be liable for any damages the drunk person causes. In Connecticut, if a person knows that a minor is drinking alcohol, it is illegal for them not to intervene and attempt to stop the minor from drinking.
States with general social host laws:
States with social host laws specific to serving minors:
States where social hosts are not liable for intoxicated guests:
In the six states where social hosts can’t be held liable for any damages their intoxicated guests cause, they can still be criminally charged if they served alcohol to minors who were not family members, whether the intoxicated minor caused damage or not.
Now that you know your state’s social host liability laws, the next step to ensuring you’re covered is to check your home insurance coverage and liability policy limits. The good news is that most homeowners insurance policies include personal liability coverage. This can help cover medical bills for liability claims like dog bites or other personal injuries that occur on your property.
Each home insurance policy offers different coverage limits, and you should know what your personal liability insurance covers before hosting your next party. Many homeowners insurance policies offer liquor liability insurance coverage, as well, to protect policyholders. Coverage limits on these policies often range from $100,000 to $300,000. But the Insurance Information Institute claims that this amount of coverage may not be enough to cover the cost of a policyholder’s assets as well as the medical expenses incurred if someone is hurt on or off your personal property. Some social host liability cases can leave hosts responsible for $500,000 or more in legal and medical fees. Your guest’s auto insurance policy may also provide coverage for the damages they cause while intoxicated. But you don’t want to rely on a potentially negligent guest’s car insurance coverage when it comes to protecting yourself and your personal property.
These liability coverage limits can leave homeowners responsible for paying for injured parties’ medical expenses on top of their own legal expenses and living expenses, even if they only served alcohol and were not directly involved in causing property damage or bodily injury. But there are still ways to make sure your homeowners insurance covers members of your household if they get caught up in a social host liability case.
The easiest way to ensure financial protection is with a personal umbrella policy. Umbrella insurance rates are higher than basic home insurance quotes, but they come with higher limits. This means you’re covered for some of the more expensive damages your intoxicated guests may cause. If you are already generally satisfied with the liability portion of your home insurance coverage, you can talk to your insurance agent about increasing your medical payment coverage. This will ensure that your insurance covers the cost of any medical expenses incurred because of your guests. You won’t have to pay for expensive medical costs out of pocket, allowing you to save on costly premiums.
Being a social host is a lot of fun, but it comes with a lot of responsibility at a high cost. Keep reading for Insurify’s answers to some of homeowners’ most frequently asked questions about social hosting.
It depends. Many states allow minors to consume alcohol in private residences when provided by or in the presence of a parent or legal guardian. Still, each state has different exceptions and regulations. The best way to know if related minors are allowed to consume alcohol is to check your local and state alcohol ordinances.
In most cases, no. Most states’ social host liability laws prevent intoxicated guests from pressing charges against a host for injuries said guest inflicted upon themselves. Some states, though, allow guests to pursue charges against hosts in this case if the guest feels their host provided alcohol negligently.
Social hosts can be held liable for a variety of costs if an intoxicated guest causes property damage or bodily injury to a third party. Depending on the type and amount of damage, social hosts can be responsible for a victim’s medical bills, legal expenses, and even emotional damages incurred. These costs for social hosts are broad-ranging and serious, so the best way to make sure you’re covered for any potential liability is through home insurance liability coverage and responsible hosting.