A Complete Guide to Serving and Hosting Responsibly

Chapter 1: What Is Liquor Liability & Who Has It?
Part 3: Affected Parties: Who's on the Hook for Liquor Liability?

Now that you understand what liquor liability is, let's take a look at who liquor liability affects. Below is a list of individuals who could be held responsible if something goes awry once the drinks start flowing.

One thing to keep in mind as you read this list is that many individuals can be sued and found liable for the same incident – even if they are only tangentially involved. In fact, the injured party will likely name as many people in the lawsuit as they can, including…

  • Owners of food services businesses. If you own a restaurant, bar, catering operation, or banquet hall, you take a risk with every poured alcoholic beverage. Let's say, for example, one of your bartenders over serves a visibly intoxicated patron. If that patron physically assaults another guest, you could be sued for the injured person's medical expenses or property damage.
  • Owners of retail stores that sell alcohol. If your cashiers fail to check IDs before selling alcohol to a customer, your store could lose its liquor license and be sued for civil or criminal charges (especially if the customer is underage).
  • Business owners who host company parties where liquor is served or sold. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's "Economic Burden of Traffic Crashes on Employers" report states that vehicle crashes in which at least one driver was alcohol-impaired cost employers more than $9 billion (including wage-risk premiums) each year. Say your organization is hosting a holiday party where a catering company is serving alcoholic beverages. If an attendee overindulges, gets in her car, and crashes it against someone's house, the homeowner could sue for damages. In their lawsuit, they may name the host facility, the caterer, and even your organization for hosting the event.
  • Individuals who host events where liquor is served. Parents, if you throw a graduation party for your teen at a venue that is not your home, you open yourself up to liquor liability risks. For example, let's say your teen's friends sneak a few drinks at the party. You could be liable for supplying alcohol to minors. In some states, the minor could sue you for injuries they incur while intoxicated at your event. Or if you're throwing a wedding shower for your (21 and up) friends at the place where they met, you could be held responsible if a guest becomes too drunk, drives, and hits someone on the way home. The injured person could sue you, the driver, and the venue owner.
  • College organizations that host events where alcohol is served. If a pledge dies due to alcohol poisoning, the parents may sue the fraternity or sorority and its local chapter members in a lawsuit. There are countless examples of such cases, but we'll delve into those later. For now, know that if you are a member of a fraternity, sorority, or other college organization, or if you lead such an organization, you can be held responsible for the alcohol-related incidents that happen at gatherings, parties, and events.

Think back to the last party or event you've been to. Chances are, you can recall at least one person who overindulged. And if your business was on the line for their actions, you'd probably ask for their keys and make an effort to ensure they stayed out of trouble.

That's the point of these liquor liability laws – to give people in key roles the incentive to reduce the risk of alcohol-related accidents, damages, and deaths. In the next chapter, we'll take a closer look at liquor liability risks and what can go wrong when you're legally responsible for someone's intoxicated actions.

Next: Chapter 2: How and When Can You Be Liable?

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