’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.
In this article
Social Host Liability 101
Social host liability laws were inspired by dram shop laws, which hold bars accountable for damages—primarily car accidents—caused by intoxicated guests. The main difference between dram shop laws and social host liability laws is that social host liability applies to any type of host, regardless of whether they are selling, or licensed to sell, alcohol.
Social host liability—which is most often enforced via social host and liquor liability laws—means that party hosts are responsible if an intoxicated guest inflicts property damage or bodily injury on another person after leaving the host’s home. Most commonly, these laws apply to drunk driving and underage drinking and leave hosts legally responsible for any harm their guests may cause. While these laws do not apply to any injuries a drunk guest inflicts upon themselves, a social host can be held civilly or even criminally liable if the intoxicated guest injures another person.
But social host liability doesn’t only apply to parties and large gatherings. A social host can be anyone who directly provides a guest with alcohol or who simply has alcohol in a private residence where guests can access it. Hosting a small girls’ night with wine and cheese? You’re a social host. Your teenager invites over a friend, and they break into the liquor cabinet after you go to bed? You’re a social host. Grandma helped herself to a Bloody Mary at brunch when no one was looking? You’re a social host. Whether you’re hosting 50 guests or five—and regardless of whether you serve alcohol or if it is simply accessible in your home—you can be considered a social host. And if an intoxicated guest leaves and causes harm, you can be held liable for the damages.
These laws also apply to various injuries and damages that intoxicated guests cause and are separate from federal drinking laws. For instance, let’s say an adult provides alcohol to a minor who is not a family member, but the intoxicated minor doesn’t cause damage or harm. The adult is not necessarily subject to social host liability, but they still defied the National Minimum Drinking Age Act. This means the adult could still face misdemeanor charges for providing a minor with alcohol, even though the minor did not cause any harm.
So what does this mean for you, and how does it affect your upcoming gathering? First, you need to determine your state’s social host laws to find out what you can be held responsible for when serving alcohol to your guests. If an intoxicated guest causes any type of damage, you may already be covered. Keep reading to learn your state’s liquor liability laws and to find out if your home insurance provider covers personal liability and liquor liability so you can keep the “fun” in your upcoming function.
Liquor Liability by State
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:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
States with social host laws specific to serving minors:
- New York
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
States where social hosts are not liable for intoxicated guests:
- West Virginia
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.
How to Know If You’re Covered
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.
Know Your Coverage
Frequently Asked Questions - Social Host Liability
Is it illegal for parents to serve their own children alcohol in the home?
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.
Can a host be held liable for the injuries an intoxicated guest inflicts upon themselves?
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.
Are social hosts responsible for covering a plaintiff’s legal costs?
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.
Social Host Liability: The Bottom Line
Hosting friends and family should be fun and stress-free, and social host liability doesn’t need to put a damper on your next shindig. With a little help from Insurify and a good home insurance policy, you can relax knowing you’re covered from a social host liability case, and rest assured that your next party will be one for the books.
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