The Party’s Over – Host Liability

The holiday party season is over, but hosts could still face liability for injuries caused by guests who have consumed alcohol or drugs. The bottom line is that hosts need to be careful not to provide intoxicants to visibly impaired guests.

Most people know that bars can be liable if they serve a visibly intoxicated patron who then causes an accident. But it’s less well known that social hosts face many of the same requirements. An Oregon statute says that both bars and social hosts can be liable for serving or providing alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person.

A recent Oregon Court of Appeals decision clarified how the statute applies to social hosts. In Baker v. Croslin, 264 Or App 196 (2014), the court discussed a gun-shot death that happened at a party during the NBA playoffs. Three friends got together to watch a game. They consumed alcohol and one guest shot another by accident as they were acting out a robbery. Experts submitted opinions that the shooter would have exhibited visible signs of being impaired, based on evidence from after the incident.

The court stated that a social host could be found liable if the shooter consumed alcohol either from the host’s home bar or that the host had purchased for him, though the host was reimbursed. In either situation, the host had made the alcohol available.

In many ways, a social host has a tougher job than a bar to prevent liability. In a bar, patrons have to buy each drink, giving a trained server an opportunity to assess whether to provide another drink. At a party, many hosts allow their guests open access to a liquor cabinet or punch bowl. Plus few hosts are trained in how to determine if a guest is intoxicated, and it’s no fun cutting off a friend.

Still, it’s better to avoid a hangover by being vigilant and planning ahead.