Happy New Year, 2016 from the team at Lamber Goodnow! And as 2015 fades into the rearview mirror, here’s a reminder that a prosperous new year should start with a conscientious social host – responsible individuals who make a plan before the celebration starts.
While dram shop laws normally establish the liability of bars or taverns serving alcohol to obviously intoxicated people or those under the legal drinking age, which is 21-years-old, who subsequently cause injury or death to third parties as a result of alcohol-related car accidents (Groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving [MADD] have long advocated for the enforcement and enactment of such laws), social host responsibility really starts with you and me – it’s a proactive approach to keeping you and your guests safe, especially on New Year’s Eve.
Bottom line, social hosts are individuals or businesses that host New Year’s parties where alcohol is served. These individuals can face liability here in Arizona, particularly if alcohol is served to someone under 21-years-old who then causes an injury to another person. As a parent, attorney Marc Lamber can relate to people who rationalize serving alcohol to someone under the legal drinking age with statements like “I’d rather have my kid drink responsibly here at my own home instead of being out somewhere with their friends.” As Lamber warns, however, adults can toast and drink responsibly, but never allow a person under 21 to drink at your party. It is not permitted to allow someone under 21-years-old to even have a sip of alcohol. One drop is too much: “As a homeowner, you can be on the hook if your child or one of their friends causes a serious accident after they’ve left your party,” adds Lamber.
Here are some great tips for social hosts to help keep their guests safe and to stay out of legal trouble:
- Let your guests know you will provide transportation home if their ability to drive seems questionable. Renting a van for a drop-off program, or providing access to a rideshare service is certainly cheaper than the legal costs of an accident that may arise from an inebriated guest leaving your home (Plus, it’s just the right thing to do). Again, plan in advance and let your guests know that you have taxis, private cars and designated drivers in place before the party starts.
- You can serve alcohol to someone who is 21-years-old and older.
- Hire a professional bartender to ensure that your guests are not overserved.
- Close the bar at least one hour before people will be leaving, and make sure that there is plenty of food on hand, and offer non-alcoholic beverages for non-drinking designated drivers.
- If you decide to take someone’s keys because you question their ability to drive, stick to it! Put that spare bedroom to good use – and have a good laugh with your friends as you serve breakfast/brunch on New Year’s day.
Some other legal issues to consider on New Year’s Eve include:
- Arizona’s Family Purpose Doctrine, which involves imputing liability to the head of the family for furnishing a vehicle to a member of the family who then is involved in an accident. This policy creates responsibility for a car owner if their car is used by one of their children, even if the child uses the car for a purpose expressly forbidden by the parent. (As an example, if you’ve said to never use our car as a taxi for your friends, and your kid drives their friends around, perhaps drinking before getting in an accident. As their parent, you are still responsible.)
- Don’t loan your car to the nanny or babysitter. As a car owner, you are still probably responsible through the doctrine of vicarious liability if they get into an accident while in your employ.
- Make sure you have uninsured/underinsured coverage on your policy. Arizona only requires $15,000 of liability insurance. If you or your family member is injured, that is extremely insufficient in many cases. Uninsured and underinsured coverage provide additional coverage to you and your family if the person who causes the accident has no insurance or does not have enough insurance, which is far too common.
Here’s a wish to a fun, and safe New Year’s Eve – and a happy 2016!