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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.

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