Social Host Liability and the Big Game

Social Host Liability and the Big Game

November 01, 2022

Party at a house while watching a sports program on television.

The Super Bowl, World Series, Kentucky Derby and Stanley Cup are all fun to watch. They're even more enjoyable when you host a party for friends and family, stocked with delicious food and drinks.

Even if you're hosting a small, socially distanced gathering this year, throwing a party in your house means you need to be aware of liability. Below are important things to always keep in mind as the host of a house party where alcohol is served.

Providing alcohol to guests

It is quite common for parties involving the viewing of sporting events to serve alcohol. As host, you have a duty to ensure the safety of each partygoer, called social host liability. This is the legal term for one’s responsibility when providing any type of alcohol to guests.

While criminal and civil laws vary by state, many states provide the injured guest (for example, if involved in a drunk driving accident) with recourse to sue the individual who provided the alcohol at the gathering. Homeowners insurance offers some liquor liability coverage, but it is typically limited to $100,000 to $300,000, which may not be enough to cover losses.

When hosting a party with alcohol, it is vital to ensure your guests do not drink excessively and that they head home safely after consuming the alcohol you serve. Be sure to remember these valuable tips:

  • Understand the ins and outs of your state’s social host liability laws.
  • Urge all guests to designate a driver who does not drink at the party.
  • As the host, stay completely sober so you can effectively guarantee that all guests stay safe.
  • Always serve food to help counter the negative and dangerous effects of drinking alcoholic beverages.
  • Know when to stop serving alcoholic drinks and when your guests are not safe to drive home.

If minors will attend your affair, make sure they do not consume alcohol. This cannot be overemphasized.

Hazards on your property

Many families have swimming pools, trampolines and playgrounds in their yards. While these “attractive nuisances” are definitely fun, they can lead to injuries and even death. If you have an attractive nuisance on your property, you may have a heightened liability exposure during gatherings you host, especially if they involve alcohol.

Guests who have overimbibed may lose coordination and judgment, making them more susceptible to falls and inappropriate behavior. If someone who is inebriated falls into your pool or is injured in a hot tub or on a piece of equipment you own, you could be held liable for their medical and other costs associated with that injury.

Some insurers refuse to cover these pieces of equipment, and many others will cover them only if specific considerations are made, such as adding enclosed fences and locked gates or padding all frames, springs and sharp edges. It is also common for insurance companies to exclude from coverage any medical bills or lawsuit expenses related to the use of this equipment.

Disputes with neighbors

At a typical sporting event, guests can get extremely loud. As a result, it is important to consider the noise ordinances in your neighborhood. Understand these rules and always respect them. Failing to do so could create a disturbance that leads to hostile behavior and even injuries.

It can be helpful to let your neighbors know about your party in advance and ask them to notify you of any problems before they engage with your guests. You may be able to defuse any conflicts before injuries or property damage occur.

Fights between friends

In the same way hostilities can develop with neighbors, outbreaks of fan emotions can lead to fights between your guests. These emotions can be enhanced when alcohol is involved, so be a great referee by serving alcohol responsibly. It’s much easier to prevent alcohol-related conflicts than to resolve them.

Secluded spaces

It’s an unpleasant thing to think of, but sometimes at large parties, people take physical advantage of others. It’s a good practice to lock rooms that aren’t intended for use at your gathering to minimize chances of untoward behavior. Good lighting and general awareness of your whole home are encouraged.

The party house

Do you host gatherings regularly, maybe as part of an organization you belong to or just because yours is the party house? It would be wise to discuss a special event policy with your insurance professional. This is coverage that goes beyond your homeowners policy and insures specific gatherings case by case. You should also look into personal umbrella insurance, which can enhance your homeowners coverage substantially for a reasonable premium, whether you host parties often or only periodically.

Beyond the alcohol

While social host liability primarily concerns gatherings where alcohol is served, you shouldn’t forget your overall duties to your guests, because you can be held liable for medical bills and other costs or losses due to your negligence as a host.

Cheesy dips, chicken wings, chili, pulled pork sandwiches, burgers and nachos are common party foods. While they are delicious, they all require careful temperature controls to prevent foodborne illness. There are numerous strains of dangerous bacteria, viruses, parasites and toxins that can contaminate undercooked or improperly stored food. These include salmonella, norovirus, hepatitis A, campylobacter, listeria, E. coli and rotavirus.

As a host, it is your responsibility to ensure the food you serve is completely safe for consumption. Practice proper food handling techniques developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

  • Keep hot food at or above 140 F.
  • Keep cold food at or below 40 F.
  • Use separate cutting boards and plates for raw meat, poultry and seafood.
  • Adhere to expiration dates on all perishable foods.
  • Store uncooked meats and ready-to-eat food separately.
  • Thaw frozen foods in the fridge or cold water.

Any games you set up or activities you offer should also be done with caution (and your liability) in mind. Make sure your walkways and stairs are well-lit and free of obstacles.

Party safely

The general liability portion of your homeowners insurance will cover claims of injury occurring at your home. But why expose your guests to hazards and your bank account to deductible payments when you can prevent the problem in the first place? Use common sense when you're hosting and take the proper precautions, and everyone will enjoy the big game gathering whether your team wins or loses.