Halloween can be a fun time of trick-or-treating, jack-o'-lanterns and costume parties, but it can also be a deadly time of increased drunk driving. Anyone hosting a Halloween party should take steps to limit their liquor liability and make sure they have the proper insurance, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).
Social host liability, the legal term for the criminal and civil responsibility of a person who furnishes liquor to a guest, can have a serious impact on party throwers. Social host liability laws vary widely from state to state. Some states do not impose any liability on social hosts. Others limit liability to injuries that occur on the host’s premises. Some extend the host’s liability if the person who was provided the alcohol is killed or injured, or kills or injures another person. Many states have laws that pertain specifically to furnishing alcohol to minors.
Most people are aware that serving alcohol to minors is illegal, yet a survey of young people shows that the most common sources of alcohol are from their own home or from persons over the age of 21 who purchase alcohol for them,” said Loretta Worters, vice president with the I.I.I. “Depending on the jurisdiction, violations of social host laws can lead to civil or criminal fines, imprisonment and monetary damages awards.”
Recently, some states ruled that anyone 16 or over throwing a party (typically while parents are away from the home) will now be held responsible.
Worters pointed out if you are throwing a party where alcohol is served, it is the hosts’ responsibility to make sure that guests are capable of driving home safely. “You don’t want to allow anyone who has been drinking to drive and possibly kill or injure themselves or others on the road."
In 2008, (the most recent statistics available), 58 percent of all highway fatalities across the nation on Halloween night (6 p.m. October 31 to 5:59 a.m. November 1) involved a driver or a motorcycle rider with a BAC of .08 or higher, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
How to Protect Yourself—and Your Assets
If you plan to host a Halloween party and serve alcohol, the I.I.I. offers the following tips on how to have a successful and safe party:
- Consider hiring a professional bartender or reliable friend to serve drinks. This will discourage your friends from mixing their own drinks and help to keep track of the size and number of drinks they consume. Most bartenders are trained to recognize signs of intoxication and will limit consumption by partygoers who have had too much.
- Be a responsible host. Limiting your own alcohol intake will allow you to better determine if a guest is sober enough to drive at the end of the night.
- Serve non-alcoholic beverages. Always have soft drinks, juices and other non-alcoholic beverages available for those guests who are driving or choose not to drink.
- Don’t serve alcohol to minors. Period. The legal drinking age in every state is 21 and, as a host, it is your responsibility to abide by it.
- Don’t force drinks on your guests or rush to refill their glasses when empty. Be a smart host; focus on creating a fun environment and do not push alcohol on your guests.
- Always serve food with alcohol. It is proven that food can help counter the effects of alcohol.
- Stop serving alcohol at least one hour before the party ends. Serve only coffee, tea and non-alcoholic beverages toward the end of your party. As the host or hostess, it is your responsibility to help your guests get home safely, so limit the amount of alcohol served toward the end of the party as guests prepare to go home.
- Speak to each of your guests before they leave the party. If you think someone is unable to drive, call a cab and pay for it yourself, arrange a ride with a sober friend, drive your guest home, or encourage that person to stay over. This will protect your guest as well as other drivers on the road.
- Encourage all your guests to wear seatbelts as they drive home. Studies show that seatbelts do safe lives.
“Talk with your insurance agent about your liability insurance coverage and any exclusions, conditions or limitations your policy might have for this kind of risk,” advised Worters. “Appropriate liability insurance coverage is necessary, but your insurance may not be enough to cover a judgment against you as a social host. If you are also charged criminally, then it is possible that your policy will not cover the civil judgment.”