From time to time, and particularly during the holiday season, I am asked by kith and kin alike about the responsibility a homeowner has to prevent people from drinking too much at a holiday party. Concerns range from the health of the person drinking copious quantities of punch to the legal liability and of the host who provided the punch. I cannot offer an opinion on the healthy amount of punch, but I can provide some insight into issues that may arise when a drunk guest leaves a party and injures someone.
Without turning this into a legal brief, in New York State the basic rule is that an adult host of a party (whom we’ll call Bob) is not legally liable or responsible if an adult guest (whom we’ll call Joe) has too much alcohol and then drives away from the party causing some injury to a someone else (we’ll call her Sue). So if Bob spiked the punch and Joe imbibes too much punch and then injures Sue, Bob is not responsible for Joe’s actions and the law will not support a lawsuit against Bob.
The line can get blurred when an adult host provides alcohol to an underage guest who then leaves the party and injures someone else. In that situation, if Joe’s son (we’ll call him Billy) consumes too much punch, and Bob is aware of Billy’s drinking and lets it happen, then Bob has some legal responsibility. If Sue instead gets injured by Billy, she can take Bob to court for his role in Billy getting drunk and injuring Sue. Also, Joe can take Bob to court for the injuries sustained by Billy.
To be sure, it is generally unlawful for an adult to provide alcohol to a minor. The law recognizes a parental exception but still does not permit intoxication by the minor even if the parent approves.
Eat, drink, be merry, encouraging responsible behavior toward alcohol. That may seem at odds with the merrymaking, but when you’re making memories, you should at least keep in mind the ability to recall them.
[This is no way should be interpreted as an endorsement of alcohol consumption by minors or to excess by anyone, and prior results do not guarantee similar outcome.]