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If I Host a Holiday Party, Could I Be Liable for Guests Who End up Drinking & Driving?

The holidays provide the perfect opportunity to catch up with friends and loved ones whom you’ve been missing. And while the festivities are always meaningful, they’ll be especially significant this year because they were hindered by the pandemic last year.

If you want to get in the spirit by hosting a party of your own, you’re probably wondering what might be at stake. When social hosts opt to serve alcohol, after all, they put their guests at risk of getting hurt (or of hurting others). Since no holiday gathering is complete without mulled wine or spiked eggnog, here’s what you should know about your responsibility as a social host.

What Are My Legal Obligations as a Social Host?

When you invite people into your home, you have general obligations regarding the premises as a whole. You may also have specific obligations, depending on the festivities you have planned.

Regarding premises liability, you must maintain your property to a reasonably safe standard. That means fixing broken stairs and loose railings, removing snow or ice from high-traffic areas, and drawing attention to inconspicuous thresholds that people might otherwise trip over. If you have any pets that get anxious around strangers, it’s also imperative to contain them in a safe place away from the gathering.

If someone were to get hurt because of a hazard you knew about—or should have known about—but failed to address, they could hold you financially liable.

As for any additional duties, they will depend on the kind of party you’re hosting. If you’ll be serving alcohol, for example, you must not supply it to underage guests. In Virginia, furnishing alcohol to anyone under 21 could result in criminal penalties.

Your liability as a social host likely stops there, however. While many states allow drunk driving accident victims to take action against the party that overserved the motorist, Virginia is not one of them.

The Virginia Supreme Court has made it clear that consuming alcohol—not merely furnishing it—is the proximate cause of drunk driving accidents (or other alcohol-related injuries). That means if you host a holiday party and one of your guests proceeds to drink more than they should and ends up hurting themselves or others, you cannot be named in any associated claims.

Of course, it’s still wise to be a conscientious host. You should serve plenty of food alongside the drinks, monitor everyone’s consumption, and provide sleeping arrangements to those who don’t have a designated driver. You might not have a legal obligation to third parties whom guests end up hurting, but you still have a personal responsibility to everyone in attendance.

This information is provided to you by Weiner, Spivey & Miller, PLC. Backed by nearly two centuries of collective experience, our compassionate team is devoted to advocating for injured parties. If you or someone you love is hurt by an impaired motorist this holiday season, we’ll help you take the steps needed to hold those who are liable accountable. To set up a free initial consultation with a car accident attorney in Fairfax, complete our Contact Form or call 703-215-9982.