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Social Host Laws and Frat Parties: What You Need to Know

Social Host LawsAre you planning a party for your fraternity or sorority? Are you a parent trying to decide if you should let your child join a frat or sorority? It’s important to understand social host laws and how they can impact sorority or frat parties. Here’s what you need to know.

1. Social Host Laws Vary from State to State

If someone is injured by an individual who became intoxicated at a private party, social host laws may allow the injured person to hold the party’s host responsible for their injuries. However, these laws vary from state to state.

For instance, in Massachusetts, there are no social host civil statutes, but there is some legal precedent indicating that the courts may hold hosts responsible if they provide alcohol to someone who is visibly intoxicated. Note that this precedent explicitly does not hold the host responsible if they did not furnish the alcohol.

In contrast, in New Hampshire, social host laws allow victims to hold party hosts responsible for the behavior of their drunken guests, but only in certain situations.

2. Serving Alcohol to People Under 21 is a Criminal Offense

Regardless of the social host laws in your state, serving alcohol to anyone under age is a criminal offense. Typically, frats and sororities have many members under the age of 21 years. In most cases, students start college when they are 18, and they often don’t turn 21 until their junior year.

If you purchase alcohol for one of these parties and someone under the age of 21 is arrested, gets in a car accident, or does anything else that alerts the authorities that they have been drinking, you may face criminal charges, which could include fines and even jail time.

3. Colleges Generally Don’t Have to Accept Liability for Students’ Actions

As a rule of thumb, colleges are not liable for students’ actions. In the case of Destefano v. Endicott College in Massachusetts, the plaintiff became intoxicated at a dorm party and attacked three students. After pleading guilty to the criminal charges against him, the plaintiff tried to bring a civil suit against the college for creating a situation where he could become intoxicated. The courts in Massachusetts ruled that the college was not liable under social host laws.

4. Frats May or May Not Be Liable for Injuries

Liability for sororities and fraternities can vary drastically from case to case. Frats may be held liable for injuries caused by drunken guests or for alcohol-related injuries suffered by guests in states where social host laws are in effect.

Additionally, if the frat has a liquor license, it may face liability under dram shop laws. If the frat hires a caterer or a bartender who has a liquor license, that individual or business may be liable for any injuries related to over-serving intoxicated guests.

Often, frats deny liability related to individual members, and in fact, fraternities and sororities may drop members if they cause certain types of damages. In those situations, the liability may shift to the individual or even to their family.

5. Victims Can Hold Individuals Responsible for Injuries

If someone is injured by a drunken individual, the injured person may be able to hold the individual criminally and civilly responsible. Often, in the case of college students, the liability shifts to their parents. Any liability issues faced by the student may fall on the parents. If the parents don’t have adequate liability coverage on their homeowners’ policy, their personal assets may be at stake.

If you are held liable in these situations, your exposure can be a few thousand dollars or well into the millions, depending on the severity of the accident. You may be held financially responsible for medical bills, and lost wages, as well as for pain and suffering, disfigurement, loss of consortium, or any other damages related to the accident.

6. No-Alcohol Policies Protect Frats and Reduce Insurance Claims

Although frat parties are notorious for serving alcohol, these organizations can exist without drinking. Most fraternities self-insure, and a significant portion of members’ fees go toward these insurance policies. When frats embrace an alcohol-free culture, their claims drop by 85%, and the amount of the average claim decreases by 95%.

If you have been hurt by someone who became intoxicated at a frat party or if you’re dealing with any other injuries related to a frat party, you should contact us at Mazow | McCullough, PC today. We can start with a no cost case evaluation. Then, we can help you decide who might be liable for your injuries and damages and help you obtain fair compensation.

 

Hosting a Prom or Graduation Party? How to Minimize Your Liability

Prom and graduation are rites of passage and afterparties are a given. However, when you’re the one hosting, you also need to be aware of liability concerns. If you are hosting a party and you serve alcohol to anyone who then injures another person, you may be held responsible for damages like medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

The cost of liability is high. For example, a drunk driving accident can cause injuries that result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical expenses. In cases of permanent disability or death, the cost of a lawsuit can be in the millions. Check out these tips to learn how limit your liability when hosting a prom or graduation party.

1. Don’t Let People Under 21 Drink

Under Massachusetts and New Hampshire law, you can face criminal penalties if you let someone under the age of 21 years drink on your property. In Massachusetts, there are exceptions for your children or grandchildren. Legally, you can furnish alcohol to your children or grandchildren in the privacy of your home, even if they are under 21, and similarly, your friends can consent to their minor children and grandchildren consuming alcohol on private property.

New Hampshire, however, has no exceptions for underage drinking. To be on the safe side, prohibit any drinking by underage guests, regardless of where you are holding the party.

2. Learn About Social Host Laws in Your State

To protect yourself from a liability standpoint, you may want to spend some time reviewing the laws in your state. Although Massachusetts does not have any civil statutes holding hosts liable if they serve alcohol to guests of any age who go on to hurt another party, decisional law allows it. In New Hampshire, however, civil statutes do exist to hold hosts responsible for injuries caused by someone they served alcohol to.

3. Be Aware That the Scope of Laws May Change

It’s important to note that legal precedent can effectively alter how courts interpret laws. For instance, in the Massachusetts case of McGuiggan v. New England Tel. & Tel. Co., the court ruled that the host was not liable for injuries caused by his guests. However, the court stated that it may have held the host liable if they served alcohol to an intoxicated guest.

This ruling creates a precedent that may make hosts responsible for their guests’ actions while intoxicated in certain situations, even though the state doesn’t have a civil statute related to this issue.

4. Protect Yourself from Other Liability Issues

Whether your state has social host laws on the books or not, you carry a certain degree of liability as a host anytime someone comes to your home. For example, imagine a guest becomes intoxicated at your party. While going down the stairs, they bump into another guest, causing them to fall and get hurt.

In this situation, the injured guest may be able to hold the intoxicated guest criminally and civilly liable for their injuries. As indicated above, under Massachusetts law, you are not liable as the host, but in New Hampshire or many other states, you may be a responsible party. However, if your guests’ injuries were caused by a hazard in your home that you knew about or should have known about, you may be liable, regardless of the social host laws in your state.

Keep your general liability as a homeowner in mind before you hold a party. To protect yourself, you may want to look for issues such as loose railings, tripping hazards on walking paths, dangerous electrical wires, and unsecured pools. If you have a dog, remember you are also liable for any injuries caused by your dog.

5. Contact Your Home Insurance Agent

To ensure you’re protected in case someone brings a lawsuit against you, take some time to contact your insurance agent before throwing a party. Ideally, you should check your general homeowner’s or renter’s liability coverage and make sure it covers issues related to alcohol liability coverage.

Make sure you have an adequate amount of coverage to protect your assets. If you have $100,000 of liability coverage and someone brings a $250,000 claim against you, you may be forced to liquidate your assets to cover the remaining $150,000 in damages.

6. Consider Not Serving Alcohol

If you want to eliminate all liability, you may not want to serve alcohol at your party. You don’t necessarily have to throw a dry party. Instead, you can have guests bring their own drinks. To understand the potential advantages of this decision, look at the case of Juliano v Simpson. After being injured by a drunk driver who had been at a party at the Simpson home, the plaintiff, Juliano, tried to hold the host responsible.

Although the drunk driver consumed the alcohol at the Simpson home, they did not obtain the alcohol from the Simpsons. Instead, they brought their own alcohol, and because of that, the court ruled that the Simpsons were not liable.

7. Promote Safe Drinking Practices

If you decide to have alcohol at your party, promote safe drinking practices. Avoid keg stands and games that “require” people to take shots or chug beers. If possible, try to stay away from sweet alcoholic drinks or foods, such as Jell-O shots, that make it exceptionally easy to consume a lot of alcohol quickly.

Serve food with your alcohol and offer a variety of non-alcoholic beverages. Serve the necessities like water, soda, juice, tea, and coffee, but also consider offering punch or some “mocktails” that allow guests to have a fun drink sans alcohol. Encourage drinking in moderation.

8. Don’t Let Drunk Drivers Leave Your Home

To minimize your liability, and more importantly, to protect the safety of your friends and family, don’t let anyone drive home drunk from your party. Ideally, all of your guests who are drinking should have a designated driver, or they should plan to take a cab or a ridesharing service home. You may even want to invite people to spend the night so they don’t have to worry about driving. Regardless of what you decide to do, make sure your guests understand you have a no tolerance policy for drunk driving.

9. Consider Holding the Party at Another Venue

If you’re worried about liability issues, you may just want to hold the event at another venue. In particular, you may want to hold the event at a bar, restaurant, or hotel. Both New Hampshire and Massachusetts, as well as most other states, have dram shop laws. Under these laws, liquor stores, restaurants, or any other businesses serving liquor can be held liable if they over serve alcohol to a patron who ends up hurting someone else while they are intoxicated. By holding the party at another venue, you typically shift the liability to that business.

Have you been injured due to someone else’s actions? Are you dealing with expensive medical bills, lost time at work, and other costs? Then, you may need a personal injury lawyer. At Mazow | McCullough, we represent clients in a variety of personal injury and wrongful death cases. For a no-cost case evaluation, contact us today.

How to Keep Your Kids Safe at the Pool

The summer season brings fun vacations, swim club memberships, and long days by the water. For families, the pool can be the perfect place to relax, cool off, and have a good time. However, pools can pose some serious dangers to children of all ages. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, drowning is now the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 4. It’s essential to follow some simple pool safety tips to ensure that your kids stay safe at the pool this summer:

pool safety tips

Proper supervision

Children need constant supervision when they are both in and around a swimming pool. It only takes seconds for a child to end up in a dangerous situation by the water. Parents must keep a close and watchful eye, not allowing themselves to become distracted. Even at pools with lifeguards on duty, you shouldn’t take your attention off of children. At hotels and swim clubs, kids should never be allowed to swim without a lifeguard or proper adult supervision.

Swimming skills

Swimming lessons are a smart idea for kids of all ages. Even babies can benefit from swimming classes that are geared towards familiarizing them with the water and, rather amazingly, teaching them the most basic skills to help them stay afloat. As a parent, you should also know how to swim. Think of knowing how to swim as an essential life skill that can mean the difference between life and death.

Learn CPR

Knowing how to perform CPR will not only give you greater peace of mind, but it could prove critical in an emergency situation. Become CPR certified by signing up for an approved course. These are often available at local hospitals, schools, and community centers, for a small fee. Retake the course every few years to keep your certification up to date.

Proper barriers

Pools and spas should have proper barriers to enclose them, including fencing and drain covers. Many local municipalities require secure fencing around backyard pools, so if you plan to install a pool, check with the local ordinances to ensure you place the proper type of fence and gate. It’s also good to get into the habit of removing the ladder for above ground pools when it’s not in use.

Remind kids of rules

While you may get tired of repeating yourself, it is important to remind your kids constantly that they can’t run on the pool deck. The pool deck can be slippery, and kids can easily fall, leading to injury, or slipping into the water. If they’re horsing around in the water, tell them to stop. If you aren’t reminding your kids of the pool rules in a public pool, you’ll find that the lifeguard will, which could lead to your child being banned from the water temporarily.

Pools are typically places for fun and enjoyment, but they can also be dangerous for kids. Follow these simple pool safety tips to help ensure that your family stays safe and healthy by the water this summer.

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