From Thanksgiving dinner to a backyard barbecue, New Year’s Eve to your kid’s first birthday, there are countless reasons to throw a celebration with family and friends. There are also countless ways that you can be held legally responsible if someone gets hurt on your property. So it’s important to take the right steps to keep your guests safe from harm, while keeping yourself safe from a personal injury claim. This checklist can help.
Just Add Alcohol?
When alcohol is in the mix at a party -- and it often is -- that can complicate things for a homeowner. Depending on what your state’s laws say as to liability of social hosts for alcohol-related accidents, you may be responsible if an intoxicated guest injures him/herself, or if they injure someone else. And that liability could exist whether or not the injury or accident happens on your property -- such as when an intoxicated guest causes a car accident on the drive home, after having one too many at your party.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when serving alcohol at your party:
- Make sure your guests don't drink too much. If they do, cut them off. Stop serving them immediately and ask your other guests to help with the situation.
- If a guest has had too much to drink, call them a cab, drive them home yourself, or ask a sober guest to make sure they get home safe. You can also offer them a place to spend the night. Take their car keys if necessary.
- Don't let minors drink. In most states, you may be charged with a crime for letting a minor consume alcohol at your house, and if the minor gets hurt or hurts someone else, you may be liable for the resulting injuries, property damages, and other losses.
- If you’ve made clear that you aren’t allowing alcohol at your party -- like a high school graduation party -- and you suspect a guest is drinking, put a stop to it immediately and make sure the guest stays at your house or gets home safely.
Pay Attention to the Condition of Your Property
As a property owner, you're responsible for the safety of your guests when it comes to most dangerous conditions on your property. This is especially true if you know about a certain hazard, the danger isn't obvious to the guests, and you do nothing to fix the problem. Here's what you need to do:
- If there are structural problems -- such as broken steps or rotten deck boards -- fix them before the party, or at the very least, rope off the area so guests can't get near the problem.
- Remove any dangerous items on the property. An old refrigerator that could trap a child or a rusty, broken down swing set are good examples.
- Consider restraining the dog. You may be liable if your pet bites, scratches or otherwise injures a guest.
- Have a pool? If it's not being used at the party, make sure the fence (many state laws require a fence around pools) is in good condition and the gate is locked. If the law doesn't require a fence, make sure parents know they need to watch their children, or have an adult supervise the area.
- If the pool is being used at the party, again make sure parents watch their children or that an adult is supervising the pool area. All guests should be told they're expected to act responsibly in and near the pool. The pool should be clean and sanitary too.
Your homeowner's insurance may be your best protection in case someone is hurt during your party. But to make sure you get the most out of your coverage:
- Be certain that your insurance is up-to-date and in force.
- Pay attention to whether your policy's limits are enough to cover an accident or injury. For example, if an injured guest has $75,000 in medical bills and other losses, but your policy only provides $50,000 in coverage, you may be personally on the hook for the remaining $25,000, and the injured guest can sue you for it.
- Keep in mind that your policy probably doesn’t cover "intentional" acts that cause injuries to someone on your property. So, if you or one of your guests pushes someone into the pool -- even playfully -- or if someone gets hit during a disagreement or fight, your policy may not cover those injuries.
- Call your insurance company as soon as possible if a guest is hurt, and let a claims agent know what happened.
With a little planning, everyone will have a good -- and safe -- time at your party, and you’ll save yourself the costs and headaches that could come with facing a lawsuit.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Can I be liable if someone “crashes” my party and hurts one of my guests?
- A teenager was sneaking drinks at a graduation party we were holding for our son. He was injured in a car accident after the party, and his parents say they’re suing us. Do they have a case?
- My son was hurt at a pool party at our house when another guest pushed him into the pool. Are the guest’s parents liable for my son’s injury?