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Sobering Thoughts for Holiday Hosts
December 12, 2012

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 eggnog to the legal liability and of the host who provided the eggnog. I cannot offer an opinion on the healthy amount of eggnog, 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 Martha) is not legally liable or responsible if an adult guest (whom we’ll call W.C.) 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 Martha spiked the eggnog and W.C. imbibes too much eggnog and then injures Sue, Martha is not responsible for W.C.’s actions and the law will not support a lawsuit against Martha.

The line can get blurred when an adult host provides alcohol to an under-age guest who then leaves the party and injures someone else. In that situation, if W.C.’s son (call him Chester) consumes too much eggnog, and Martha is aware of Chester’s drinking and lets it happen, then Martha has some legal responsibility. Sue can take Martha to court for her role in Chester getting drunk and injuring Sue. Also, W.C. can take Martha to court for the injuries sustained by Chester.

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.
So eat, drink, and be merry including, but not limited to, encouraging responsible behavior toward alcohol [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]. 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.

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