Fa la lawsuit? 8 tips to avoid liability at your holiday party

Business, Money

The holidays are almost upon us, and many people are gearing up for season full of eggnog, cookie swaps and holiday get-togethers. If you are considering hosting a holiday or New Year’s Eve shindig of your own, the following pointers can help you avoid unexpected liability and keep the peace between guests and neighbors.

#8 – Be mindful of the noise

Not only is it considerate to your neighbors, but keeping the noise down could also help you avoid criminal trouble in certain neighborhoods. Noise ordinances are common, and most municipalities keep laws on the books regarding raucousness past a certain hour. Even if your community does not have a specific noise ordinance, nearly every jurisdiction maintains a catch-all “peace and order” statute allowing police to intervene if a party is raging into the wee hours.

#7 – Keep the mess to a minimum

Likewise, be a good neighbor and clean up after yourself, particularly if you live in a sub-division or relatively close quarters. Piles of trash and garbage in the yard hardly compliment the festive snowman motif, and could also get you in trouble with local authorities for running afoul of nuisance or sanitation rules.

#6 – Park it, responsibly

Depending on your situation, parking could be a serious issue at your holiday party. If you live in a city, never double-park or encourage guests to “park wherever,” as city officials will not hesitate to tow a vehicle blocking a fire hydrant or driveway. Likewise, private lots are within their rights to hand out parking tickets to unauthorized parkers.

If you live in a neighborhood, insist that guests respect the private property, including driveways, of others and require all partygoers to park neatly along the curb.

#5 – Leave food prep to the professionals

If you are planning to serve large quantities of food to your guests, ensure your caterers or preparers are licensed and insured according to your state’s guidelines. Deciding to pass out discount shrimp cocktails that may have fallen off the back of a fish truck could expose you to massive liability in the event partygoers fall ill – or worse – with a foodborne illness. If your guests are injured by the food of a caterer, however, the liability lies on them.

#4 – Put away the Fabergé eggs

The holidays are time of cheer, camaraderie and – sometimes – rum-infused rowdiness. The laws are clear that a person who damages the property of another is responsible for the costs of repair. This is known as “trespass to chattels” (if the item is repairable) or “conversion” (if it is not). In the former, the guest owes the host the cost to repair the item, while in the latter the guest owes the amount to replace the item. Nonetheless, avoid this buzzkill situation by keeping breakables out of the way – and avoiding inviting anyone likely to start a brawl.

#3 – Make a list and check it twice

Be very mindful of your guest list. All sorts of shenanigans can take place at an end-of-the-year holiday event, and keeping your guests safe from the moment they arrive to the moment they return home is a tall order. You can face serious (as in, serious) liability for personal injuries to your guests stemming from known hazards on your property. This includes assaults of any kind between guests, injuries in the pool, falls, accidents and even over-intoxication if you had reason to know the guest was impaired and insisted on serving him or her nonetheless. Lessen the odds of an accident by not inviting anyone who typically falls on the naughty list.

#2 – Never, ever, ever serve minors

We know you know this. But it is not uncommon, after several drinks of their own, for party hosts to conclude that the 18-year olds in the house aren’t going anywhere for the night and it probably wouldn’t hurt to let them sneak a champagne or two. Wrong. If the teenager does get behind the wheel after drinking, the adult serving alcohol could be held liable for any resulting arrests, injuries, accidents, even deaths. It is never worth it.

#1 – Don’t allow ‘obviously intoxicated’ guests to leave your home

The laws on this vary from state to state, and are known as “dram shop” laws. In states with a dram shop law, bars, restaurants and party hosts can be held liable for the acts of an intoxicated patron if the person serving alcohol continued to serve the patron after he or she was obviously drunk. If you live in one of these states — over half of states in the U.S. have these laws — you could be on the hook if someone leaves your party drunk and gets into an accident.

Even if your state does not have a dram shop law, keep everyone safe this holiday season by requiring guests to use designated drivers, car services or taxis, or by opening up your guest bedroom for the night.

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