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January 31, 2013

Hosting a Super Bowl party? Serving alcohol could make you liable for accidents

By Lori Johnston, InsWeb.com

The biggest fumble you could make as the host of a Super Bowl party would be to serve alcohol and allow guests to drive drunk.

Behind New Year’s Day, Super Bowl Sunday and the morning after the big game is the second deadliest time of the year for drunk driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Forty-three states have “social host liability” laws, with specifics varying from state to state. “Social host liability” is the legal term for the criminal and civil responsibility of a person who provides liquor to a guest. Having home or renter’s insurance can offer financial protection if tragedy strikes.

“People just think about (homeowner’s insurance) for hurricanes or fires, but you do have liability protection in the event that somebody gets injured,” says Jeanne Salvatore, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute.

Some states, such as Massachusetts and Maine, extend liability to drunk driving accidents, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

In every state, the host would not be liable for injuries suffered by a drunk guest of legal drinking age, since the person was voluntarily intoxicated and was negligent, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Under the law in some states, such as Michigan and Pennsylvania, a host could be held liable for injuries suffered by an underage guest who was drunk.Social host liability

Coverage amounts for social host liability typically are limited to $100,000 to $300,000, depending on the policy, according to the insurance institute. The policy typically will refer to this protection as liquor liability coverage. Insurers such as Farmers and Allstate declined to comment about social host liability, saying the Insurance Information Institute speaks for the insurance industry.

Before throwing a party, it’s wise to talk to your insurance agent or company representative about your coverage in case you’ll be in a situation that could involve social host liability.

Another bad call: Serving alcohol to minors

Other state laws govern hosts who furnish alcohol to minors.

“It’s not just a youth problem. Underage drinking is an adult problem. The kids get their alcohol from adults,” says Jan Withers, president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

Social host liability laws could be particularly helpful in deterring adults from offering alcohol to minors, Withers says.

MADD teams up with the NFL on a game-day designated driver program that includes a public service announcement encouraging fans to “sign up to play the most important position in the NFL: the designated driver.” The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is using the Twitter hashtag #DesignatedDrivers to urge people to use designated drivers when drinking.

Score by helping guests get home safely

If you are throwing a Super Bowl party that will involve alcohol, here are five tips from the Insurance Information Institute and MADD to reduce your risk of being held liable for a mishap.

1. Encourage guests to recruit designated drivers.

Selecting a designated driver will allow a guest to enjoy the party knowing a sober person will take the guest home. “As a host, I would be asking when people RSVP and what their plans are for getting home with a sober driver,” Withers says. Also, encourage drivers and passengers to buckle their seat belts.

2. Offer food and non-alcoholic beverages.

Providing food and non-alcoholic drinks can help the designated driver enjoy the party and also counter the effects for guests who do drink alcohol. Food also keeps guests from consuming alcohol on an empty stomach. Also, toward the end of the evening, stop serving liquor and switch to soft drinks, coffee or tea.

3. Don’t drink too much as the host.

Limiting your alcohol consumption will enable you to be a responsible host and judge your guests’ sobriety. Part of being a responsible host also means not pressuring guests to drink or not immediately refilling empty glasses. If guests appear unable to drive home, arrange a ride with a sober guest, call a cab or offer a guest room or couch. “Be ready to step in if you see something that you are concerned about,” Withers says.

4. Hire a professional bartender.

Typically, a bartender is trained to recognize signs of intoxication and to not serve guests who are too tipsy. Also, avoid serving mixers, which mask the taste of alcohol and may cause people to drink more, MADD says.

5. Use another venue.

Hosting the party away from your home, such as at a bar or restaurant, can minimize your social host liability.

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