published Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Inside Insurance: Holiday dangers for party givers

By David Colmans

Have you seen the commercial on TV about the plastic dinnerware that looks expensive but is disposable? It’s the tag line that is both funny and sadly true, especially at the holidays: “Smarty Had A Party.”

Holiday parties are supposed to be fun. A good time was had by all, and so forth. Yet as party planners and hosts, we have responsibilities that sometimes we fail to consider.

One of the most important is the potential for a homeowner or a renter to face social host liability laws when serving liquor. Let’s be real here. It’s not easy to invite friends and relatives to a party and then take steps to limit their liquor consumption. It is much easier for a bartender to tell a stranger he or she has had enough or even too much. When the host is the bartender it can be a different story.

Just for the record, the legal term for criminal and civil responsibility of a person who furnishes liquor to a guest is known as “Dram Shop Liability.” Here’s what the party host should seriously consider in the planning process as well as during the event.

The victim of a drunk driver in many states including Georgia has a legal method to sue the person who served the alcohol, and under these laws criminal charges may also apply.

Loretta Worters, vice president of the I.I.I. says “While a social host is not liable for injuries sustained by the drunken guest (as they are also negligent), the host can be held liable for third parties, and may even be liable for passengers of the guest who have been injured in their car.”

Homeowners insurance usually provides some liquor liability coverage, but it is typically limited to $100,000 to $300,000, depending on the policy, which might not be enough. Renters who have liability coverage should also know what their policies cover and for how much.

To make sure you cover the bases in preparation for a holiday party, it is a good idea to speak with your insurance agent or company representative about your homeowners or renters coverages and any exclusions, conditions or limitations your policy might have for risks of this kind, according to Ms. Worters.

There are several important items to consider on your checklist as a responsible host or hostess. It is important to promoting safe alcohol consumption and protect your exposure regarding social host liability laws.

• Make sure you understand your state laws.

• Consider venues other than your home for the party.

• Hire a professional bartender.

• Encourage guests to pick a designated driver.

• Offer non-alcoholic beverages and always serve food.

• Do not pressure guests to drink.

• Stop serving liquor toward the end of the evening.

• If guests drink too much or seem too tired to drive home, call a cab.

• Encourage all your guests to wear seatbelts as they drive home.

One more item is important to consider regarding a party especially in your home or apartment. Look round the area where your party will be held and make sure you have eliminated potential risks for slip and fall injuries. Furniture or throw rugs can be dangerous so it is worth the effort to look closely at areas both inside and outside of your home or apartment.

An obvious concern at this time of year is ice, snow and rain as well as upswept areas where guests may be injured.

David Colmans is the executive director of the Georgia Insurance Information Service. Contact him at (770) 565-3806 or by email at

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