Holiday Parties Are Over in Massachusetts when Liability Kicks in

social-host-liability-massachusettsPlanning a holiday party at home, or for your office? Massachusetts host liability laws need to be considered so that you don’t begin the New Year with a lawsuit.

Most Massachusetts hosts know that they are responsible if someone leaves a party intoxicated and gets into an accident that results in injury or death. Social Host Liability laws in Massachusetts say, quite plainly, that if you are aware or should have been aware that someone you provided alcohol to is intoxicated, you can be held liable for the damage they cause.

You are also liable, and could face criminal charges, if someone under the age of 21 is served at a holiday party at your home. You do not need to be home for this to happen. If someone else, such as your kids, hosts a party where minors are served, you, as the owner of the property, will be held liable.

Rules for Workplace Parties
Under Massachusetts law, the hosts of workplace parties are not subject to liability—

–If the party is held at a commercial establishment, such as a restaurant, function hall or hotel
–if a commercial bar serves the alcohol in a private setting

A “commercial bar” is defined as an outside service, such as a catering company, that provides alcohol for a function. In both of these cases, the bartenders, not the hosts, accept liability for accidents caused by intoxicated drivers.

To avoid liability issues for workplace holiday parties, try to host them at a rented venue or have them catered at your place of work. Avoid hosting these parties at home, and avoid supplying alcohol directly to employees,

How to Keep Guests Safe

A few common-sense rules can help to keep your holiday party guests safe and avoid liability at your next gathering.

Collect car keys from everyone as they arrive. Put the keys in a secure place so that guests must check in with you to get them before they leave. If a guest is showing signs of intoxication, including slurred speech, unsteadiness, drowsiness, confusion and slow reaction times, give the guest a place to sleep or the phone number of a cab company.

  • If guests arrive at your home intoxicated, do not serve them. Massachusetts law assigns liability to the last person who served an intoxicated driver. If your guest has several shots of holiday cheer at the pub, then stops by your home for an eggnog chaser, you will be responsible for any accidents caused by that guest.
  • Limit the alcohol you have on hand and do not encourage BYOB. Controlling the amount of alcohol available is one of the simplest ways to prevent guests from getting intoxicated. The heavy drinkers may leave once the holiday spirits run out, but they will likely leave sober.
  • Appoint a Sober Host. A Sober Host agrees not to consume any alcohol at a party, much like a designated driver. A Sober Host may also provide rides home for anyone who has drunk too much to drive. This is a good practice if you are hosting a party at home, as it ensures that someone will be sober enough to evaluate the guests when the festivities end.

Nothing ends holiday merriment faster than a car accident. At Sheff Law, we want everyone to enjoy the season to the fullest, and we hope that everyone stays safe throughout the holidays. Remember that impaired driving accidents can always be prevented, and do your part to keep your friends, family and community safe.

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