Drinking and Legal Responsibility for Party Host

Whether it’s the holiday season or that summer cookout around the pool, party host need to know their responsibilities when alcoholic beverages are served. You should already know that it’s important to practice moderation. But what about the other guy? How far should you go to make sure that a friend or fellow party-goer doesn’t’ drink too much and gets behind the wheel of a car?

If you’re hosting a party and serving alcohol, you definitely have some responsibility – and there are some important liability issues that you need to be aware of as well.

Mark Alexander, partner and personal injury attorney with the Stewart, Melvin & Frost law firm in Gainesville, Ga., provides good advice on this subject.

Question: If you happen to be hosting a party at your home or office, what responsibilities do you have under the law?

Mark: Under Georgia law, a person cannot knowingly sell, furnish or serve alcoholic beverages to:
1) Someone under legal age of 21; OR
2) Someone who is in a state of “noticeable intoxication.”

There are three factors that have to happen under this statute:
1) You provide the alcohol
2) You know the recipient is drunk
3) You know they will soon be driving.

That means if you’re hosting a party and serve alcohol to someone who is obviously drunk, you can share in the liability for their stupid and dangerous acts.

Dram Shop Act Liability: This section of the law traditionally applied to bars and taverns that provide alcohol (a “dram” is a small serving of alcohol, hence the name “dram shop”). But there have been court rulings in which this Act has been applied to “social hosts” as well.

Question: So what should you do if someone has had too much to drink at your party and you know that they plan to drive home?

Mark: Under Georgia law, it is your duty to stop serving alcohol to that person. You are not required to stop them from driving – you just can’t provide the alcohol.

But regardless of the law, it should be everyone’s duty to be watchful and to prevent someone from getting into a car to drive in an intoxicated state.

Interesting twist in the law: If a drunk driver is in an accident and is the only person hurt, he or she can’t blame the person who provided the alcohol. It only matters when there’s a third party involved in the accident.

Employers hosting office Christmas parties: It’s OK to spread holiday cheer among your employees, but remember that you have some responsibilities, too, to make sure that the fun doesn’t go too far. You have a duty to refuse to serve alcohol to anyone who appears intoxicated and plans to drive.

Question: What other advice to you have for people who are either serving alcohol or imbibing during the holiday season?

Mark: My best advice is simply to use good common sense and practice moderation. If you host a party and provide alcohol be aware of those who have had too much. Take responsibility: If you see someone is drunk at a party, don’t make fun of them – help them get home safe.

It’s more than just about the law. It’s making sure that we all enjoy the holidays sensibly and responsibly so that no one gets hurt by the stupid actions of you or someone else.

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