If you've purchased an expansive home or property with the hope of entertaining guests there, you may give little thought to the liability you could incur by providing your guests with food and beverages – other than to make sure they turn over their keys once they've had a bit too much to drink. However, if you plan to host a wedding or other large event at your home in the near future and will be serving alcohol, you may want to first investigate your state's dram shop laws to ensure you won't inadvertently become liable for any accidents or injuries your guests have after they leave. Read on to learn more about the liability these laws can bestow upon a homeowner.
What are dram shop laws?
Although not all states have codified the personal liability a homeowner or bar employee may incur by providing a patron with too much to drink and then allowing him or her to take the wheel, many have – and if you live in a state with dram shop laws, it's worth boning up on your state's procedures before you ever offer another drink to a guest.
In general, these laws can assess liability against a homeowner for a) over serving a guest, leading to his or her injury; or b) allowing a guest to take the wheel (or take passengers in his or her vehicle) after you're aware that he or she has been consuming alcohol. If this guest is later involved in an auto accident that injures an innocent person, you – along with the guest him- or herself – could be on the hook for medical expenses and even punitive damages.
What can you do to protect yourself before hosting a wedding or large event?
If your state does have dram shop liability laws, you'll need to properly insure yourself before serving alcohol to guests.
One step is to purchase an umbrella insurance policy. This insurance kicks in once your other insurance limits (including homeowners', auto, or even malpractice or professional liability) have been exceeded and can be used to pay your legal defense fees or even settle with the injured party.
Your next step should be to put measures in place to ensure that none of your guests are over served or permitted to get behind the wheel after drinking. In addition to advertising your home's "no drinking and driving" policy prior to your guests' arrival, you may want to enlist the help of a professional bartender or a couple of friends who can serve as valets, ferrying guests home in their own vehicles to prevent them from drinking and driving. Contact a business, such as Spirited Consulting, LLC, for more information.