If a party guest drives home drunk, is the host liable?

Q:

If I host a party where I serve liquor and someone gets really drunk and drives home, am I legally liable if something happens?

A:

Most people understand that it is not a good idea to continue serving alcohol to a guest who is obviously drunk. For the safety of that guest and the other party goers, it's important to cut them off. While the legal duty of "social hosts" is lower than that of servers in a restaurant or bar, you could still be held liable and sued for the actions of the intoxicated guest (if you're a business serving alcohol, see Liquor Liability Insurance: Do You Need It?).

While there are hundreds of arguments to be made about personal responsibility, a host who continues to serve a guest while they are obviously intoxicated could be held liable if the guest drives home drunk and causes an accident (find out Why You Need a Lot of Liability Coverage).

That being said, not every host will be held liable when a guest drives home intoxicated. They have to be deemed negligent in some way. For example, you could be held liable if:

  • The guest was obviously intoxicated but you still served them drinks
  • You knew the guest was planning to drive
  • You failed to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of your guests (by arranging a taxi or designated driver service)
  • You failed to train staff properly to ensure that alcohol is served responsibly
  • You had full control of the guest's liquor consumption (all the liquor they consumed was on your premises and the liquor was provided by you)

There are also some risk management strategies you can take to reduce your liability and ensure the safety of your guests.

  • Don't have an open bar
  • Serve drinks that are a bit smaller than the usual size
  • Don't permit drinking games
  • Serve food (this slows down the absorption rate of alcohol)
  • Stay sober so you can drive or be clear-headed in your decision-making
  • Hire a professional and certified bartender to serve the drinks - they can watch for signs of intoxication as well as absorb some of your legal liability

And finally, if the worst-case scenario does materialize, you should also have an insurance policy in place to ensure that you're protected. Talk to your agent or broker about Social Host Liquor Liability insurance or, as it's sometimes called, Party Alcohol Liability.

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Written by Jacques Wong
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Jacques grew up around the insurance industry and began actively participating in 2013. Since then, he has gotten a Level 2 license, won an Insurance Council of BC award in 2015 for academic excellence in the insurance licensing courses and educates insurance professionals through PNC Learning.   Full Bio