It seems early in the season to be talking about holiday parties (of course, some would say it’s never too early). However, many companies, families, and others are already well into the planning stages of throwing a holiday party. Most parties will involve alcohol and varying levels of revelry.
Inevitably, when alcohol and revelry intersect, things can go wrong. When things go wrong and people get hurt, party hosts who have served alcohol are often sued by the victim of a drunk driver or sexual assaulter. This HR Law Insider edition discusses how employers and other social hosts (e.g. private party hosts, family party hosts) can limit their liability and protect themselves against such lawsuits.
ARIZONA LAW PROTECTS SOCIAL HOSTS, EXCEPT WHEN THEY ARE SERVING MINORS
Arizona’s “social host” statute provides:
“A person other than a licensee or an employee of a licensee acting during the employee’s working hours or in connection with such employment is not liable in damages to any person who is injured, or to the survivors of any person killed, or for damage to property, which is alleged to have been caused in whole or in part by reason of the furnishing or serving of spirituous liquor to a person of the legal drinking age.”
Thus, if a non-liquor licensed employer throws a holiday party, or an individual throws a holiday party at his or her home, they will not generally be liable if one of their guests becomes intoxicated and harms a third party.
It should be noted that the social host statute does NOT extend protection to social hosts who provide alcohol to persons not of the legal drinking age. Thus, it was held that members of a University of Arizona fraternity could be held liable for serving drinks to an underage person who became intoxicated, got behind the wheel, and severely injured a third party (thus, anyone with children in a fraternity or that are throwing parties had better be sure that minors are not being served).
STEPS THAT SOCIAL HOSTS CAN TAKE TO ENSURE THAT THEY MAINTAIN IMMUNITY FROM THIRD PARTY LAWSUITS
Even though Arizona’s social host statute is very protective of employers and other social hosts, it is always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to alcohol. If you elect serve alcohol at this year’s holiday party, here are a tips to reduce or avoid potential exposure:
- Have employees sign a pre-party written acknowledgement that attending the party is purely voluntary, not a work event, and that they will drink and behave responsibly at the party.
- Ensure your employees can get home safely from the party. For example, consider providing Uber/cab fare, designated drivers, or a car or shuttle service, to ensure employees make it home safely.
- Limit the amount of alcohol at your event and limit the amount of alcohol per attendee.
- Serve food and plenty of non-alcoholic beverages.
- Hire professional bartenders and make sure they check IDs to prevent underage drinking. Bartenders can also help in determining when someone has had too much to drink.
- Do not have employees serve alcohol.
- Ensure that your insurance covers liquor liability. If it does not, consider purchasing single-event insurance (perform a cost/benefit analysis).
- Keep the entertainment clean, professional, and non-controversial.
If you have any questions or concerns about your upcoming holiday party, contact Bourque Law Firm. Otherwise, Happy Holidays! Oh, and don’t be a knucklehead on your Uber ride home, or you may end up without a job and on ABC news, like this Taco Bell executive did after some heavy partying: