Mr. Insurance” Tips: Safe Holiday Party Hosting Tips
It’s a nightmare nobody wants: You host a holiday party. Everyone has a great time. And everyone leaves.
A day or two later, you hear it through the grapevine: Two of your guests never made it home. The young couple is in a hospital after a severe car accident.
It’s hard to think about, but it happens every year.
Now, here’s an all-too-common next chapter in that tragic drama:
Your party guest severely injured another driver while driving home from your house, along with three children in that passenger’s car.
They all spent Christmas in the hospital, recovering from their injuries.
And a couple of weeks after the accident, you get a knock on the door.
It’s a process server. And they hand you a summons notifying you that you are being sued for $1 million in direct medical care costs, and pain and suffering, due to your negligence in hosting the holiday party and allowing your irresponsible guests to drive home drunk.
And yes, it turns out that your guests got blood tests immediately after the incident, and the driver was well above the legal limit.
Are you liable?
The answer is probably YES.
Not to your guests. After all, they were negligent, too, in at least equal measure (assuming they are legal adults). So they wouldn’t normally have a claim against you.
But the people they injured do.
And if you have any kind of assets to protect, any alert ambulance chaser lawyer who can fog a mirror will come looking for you.
They’d be idiots if they didn’t.
That’s why anybody who hosts a holiday party that involves alcohol should make sure their homeowners or renters’ insurance is paid up, and that they carry a reasonable amount of liability insurance commensurate with the risks.
Several hundred thousand dollars of liability insurance is in order: One severe car accident with injuries can easily result in multiple six figures of liability.
And of course, you want to make sure that anyone injured by someone driving home from a party you hosted is taken care of.
But homeowner’s insurance may not be enough. Most homeowner’s insurance policies do provide some limited liquor liability insurance. But it’s usually capped at between $100,000 to $300,000.
That’s not enough to compensate a severely injured driver, passenger, or pedestrian. And it’s not enough protect you against a serious incident. Your home and livelihood could potentially be at risk.
Here are some tips and best practices for safe holiday hosting that may save your bacon this holiday season.
Insurance and Risk Management Tips – Protect Your Neck!
Since this is primarily an insurance-focused blog, I’ll lead with the insurance-related tips:
Obviously, a straight homeowners’ insurance policy won’t suffice if the host is a business. Homeowner’s insurance policies are designed to cover the normal liabilities that happen simply in the course of homeownership, and that are common to all.
Similarly, a general business liability insurance policy may not work either. Not every business chooses to host a holiday party and serve alcohol. For a standard general business liability policy to cover that through its base policy would be unfair to every other business in the pool that chooses not to have a holiday party serving alcohol.
So liability arising from drunk driving after a holiday party is probably excluded from your general business liability insurance.
The answer: Buy a social host liability insurance policy.
These policies are specifically designed to protect party hosts, as well as restauranteurs, bar owners, nightclub owners, and the like.
Laws governing social host liability are also called “dram shop” laws, and they vary widely from state to state.
But at least 43 states specifically allow for injured parties to sue not just the negligent drunk driver who injured them, but also potentially sue the hosts who serve liquor, or allow liquor to be consumed on their premises.
In short, if you host an event where you know people are drinking, or you reasonably should know that people are drinking (or taking in anything else that would impair their driving), you are responsible for making sure they don’t leave your party still intoxicated.
So you should have social host insurance in place to protect everyone involved.
You should also consider buying umbrella liability coverage. This is great, low-cost excess liability coverage that picks up where your homeowner’s, business general liability insurance, car insurance, renter’s insurance, or other coverages leve off. You can buy it as an individual or as a small business. It’s a way to buy a large amount of broad liability coverage for a very little additional premium.
Planning Ahead: An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure
Here’s how to protect yourself, your guests, and the other members of your community.
Consider hosting your party at a restaurant or bar, rather than at home. The bar will normally have dram shop insurance to help protect them and their customers (your guests!)
They’ll also probably have trained, professional bar staff who can politely but firmly tell your guests “no.” So you don’t have to be the jerk acting like a grown-up.
If you have a party catered, consider hiring a professional bar service. Before giving them the deposit to reserve the date, verify that they have the appropriate beer and wine or liquor license and that they have adequate liquor/social host liability insurance in force themselves. Discuss ahead of time their approach to cutting off obviously intoxicated party-goers.
When guests arrive:
Ask who the driver is going to be. Put a colored bracelet on their wrist. So nobody serves them alcohol.
Collect keys from drivers as they arrive. When they leave, they have to get their keys from you. And you get to eyeball them and assess whether they are capable of driving.
At the beginning of the party, tell your guests that you have a special present or party favor for them, so they should stop to speak with you before they leave. This gives you one more chance to assess their level of intoxication, and intervene if necessary to have them stay over or get them a ride home.
Don’t let people drink on an empty stomach. Serve lots of food, such as charcuterie (meat and cheese) plates, pizzas, or anything you’re good at cooking. Order Chinese takeout if you need to. Fire up the grill, if it’s not too cold. Food slows the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream – taking the edge off of peak intoxication.
Have some fun games and activities planned? Don’t make drinking the central activity!
Offer a way for anyone who takes a cab or Uber ride or designated driver ride home to come back and get their car from your event the next day. You might need to pick them up yourself.
Identify any minors, and make sure they don’t have access to alcohol. Have them wear a special wristband or mark their hand with indelible ink.
Hire a valet parking service for larger events. The valet can also provide a valuable last-minute safety check on your guests. Have them alert you if someone is visibly impaired.
Rent a passenger van to provide free rides home, and make sure people use it!
Office party planners should set guidelines, such as capping the number of drinks at two.
Corporate event Make sure management knows they are expected to set the example and to help keep
De-ice your stairs, walkways, and driveways. Winter is hazardous enough by itself. It’s even more hazardous if you’re drunk.
Use only flameless LED candles for decorations.
At the Party
Provide lots of non-alcoholic drinks, including sodas, diet sodas, non-alcoholic beers, coffee, tea, non-alcoholic holiday cider, egg nog, and/or other alternatives.
Don’t do “self-serve” hard liquor. Have one person control all the liquor, and do all the pouring. Have that person give you a heads-up if someone is coming back for too much.
Refill empty glasses with ice water, not alcohol.
Don’t pressure guests to drink.
Office party planners should set guidelines, such as capping the number of drinks at two.
Have a few sober designated drivers on hand and ready. These are people who have already volunteered in advance to drive inebriated guests home.
Be prepared to have a few people stay overnight on your couch or spare bedroom.
Cut off alcohol at least one hour prior to the scheduled end of the party.
Don’t be a spineless weakling. If someone is being irresponsible, intervene before it’s too late!
Remember: The roads are extra hazardous during the holidays, with early morning New Year’s Day being the most hazardous day of the year.
The combination of darkness, ice, alcohol, and fatigue makes collision a much greater risk even for drivers who don’t drink.
Want to update your insurance policy? Add more liability protection? Add collision coverage that will actually help you replace your car if it’s in a wreck this Christmas.
Call us today! Or click here to get a free, easy, no-obligation quote. If you like what you see, we can get you set up in minutes!
On behalf of all of us at Select Insurance Group, have a safe, happy, and healthy holiday season, and a blessed New Year!
President and CEO,