Hidden liability comes along with holiday festivities. For those who mix alcohol with corporate or private parties, proper insurance is essential.

Holidays can be fun times filled with office and private parties, but they can also be deadly with increased drunk driving this time of year. Anyone hosting a holiday 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 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.”

Worters also pointed out if you are throwing a party where alcohol is served, it is your responsibility to make sure that your guests are capable of driving safely. “You don’t want to allow anyone who has been drinking to drive home and possibly kill or injure themselves or others on the road.”


If you plan to host a holiday 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; push the food, not the alcohol on your guests.
  • Always serve food with alcohol. It is proven that food can help counter the effects of alcohol.
  • Don’t admit individuals into your home who are already intoxicated. Access to more alcohol will likely create negative outcomes that you could be held liable for, such as fighting, alcohol poisoning and drunk driving.
  • 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.”

Worters noted that party hosts should do their part to help reduce the number of DUI-related crashes by taking the necessary steps to help promote responsible hospitality over the holiday season. “It’s not just about the risk; it’s also about the responsibility. Nobody wants to feel responsible for someone else’s injury or death.”

The I.I.I. is a nonprofit, communications organization supported by the property/casualty insurance industry.

Posted in: liability insurance, Maryland Insurance