Having a Super Bowl party? You should know about ‘social host’ liability


You’ve already planned the menu (hot wings, lemon pepper wings and BBQ wings — what else???) and imagined all of the trappings and cool décor for your Super Bowl party. If you’re going to have adult beverages flowing, there’s one thing you may need to consider. It’s called “social host” liability.

As many as 43 states have social host liability laws on the books, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Similar to the old “dram shop” laws, which hold bars, taverns and other places of business responsible for drunken customers who injure or kill other people in car accidents or otherwise, some states put a similar onus on party hosts.

What you need to know before you host that Super Bowl party

Not to be a party pooper, but these laws mean that people who throw gatherings and events — like Super Bowl parties — could be opening themselves up to lawsuits, or worse, criminal prosecution, if their guests are involved in any alcohol-related crimes.

As you can imagine, all types of people would find themselves in trouble if these types of laws were broadly applied to hospitable individuals who just wanted to buy or share drinks with their friends or families. Because of that consideration, many states will generally protect social hosts — unless someone under 21 is either served alcohol or is hurt by an intoxicated guest.

In addition to the dram shop laws, the rise of social host statutes can be traced in large part to one high-profile case that set legal precedent in 1984 when the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled to extend liability to a host who had served a guest 13 drinks during a short visit to his home. As he drove away, the guest got into a head-on collision, injuring another driver.

Because of that incident and subsequent laws after it, social hosts need to know if they’re covered when it comes to mixing guests and alcohol.

Things to consider about ‘social host’ liability laws

If you host a party at your home and a guest who drank there causes injury or damage to someone else, your liability depends on the state. In some states, the party host could face some civil liability resulting in a fine; in others, property owners could face criminal liability, including jail.

In California, hosts are protected from liability, but that goes out the window if minors are involved. In Louisiana and a handful of other states, no legislation exists that would hold a social host responsible. To see statutes governing your state, check this list from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Another factor to consider is your home insurance policy. It may cover some damages and legal fees in a civil lawsuit, but much less so in a criminal case.

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“Homeowners insurance usually provides some liquor liability coverage, but it is typically limited to $100,000 to $300,000, depending on the policy, which might not be enough,” according to the legal blog of Barnes Insurance Group.

If something happens and you didn’t pay attention to how much your guests drank, “in most scenarios, you’d be found at least partially negligent,” Terry McConnell, underwriting manager for Erie Insurance, told Insure.com. “It would be up to the court to decide damages. Bottom line is that for any judgment against you, your insurance will pay up to the limit.”

In cases such as these, umbrella insurance — which is just extra liability coverage — may make sense. But before you buy it, contact your insurer to see what your particular policy already covers.

Money expert Clark Howard says there are some types of insurance that you need, and some that you should skip. “The ‘skips’ include extended warranties, home warranties, mobile phone insurance, identity theft insurance, credit monitoring, and pet insurance,” he writes.

He says the no-brainers would be auto, medical, renters and an umbrella policy if you have a lot of assets. See more of our insurance coverage here.

3 ways to protect yourself as a social host

Here are three things you can do to protect yourself before hosting a party, according to the Insurance Information Institute:

Consider hiring a bartender: Like other professions, bartenders are typically trained to spot people who’ve had too much. They can greatly minimize your liability by cutting off people who show signs of drunkeness.

Stop serving drinks at some point: If you’re watching the big game, it may be a good idea to cut the drinks off in the second half and start serving soda, coffee or water to help sober people up.

Take advantage of ridesharing apps: Make arrangements for your guests to be driven to and from your party safety by using ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft.

RELATED: Should guests be expected to pay at birthday parties or other celebrations?


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