The holiday season is here, which means most people will be spending time with friends and family members. Alcohol is often involved in these get togethers, which also brings a few dangers. Meshbesher & Spence’s Andrew Davick recently stopped by KROC to talk about safe holiday fun.

Drinking and Driving

What do you recommend to those who will be attending holiday parties this year? The first thing is that if you’re downtown or at somebody’s house, make sure you have a designated driver. If not, have a plan to call a taxi. We don’t have Uber in Rochester, but you should absolutely make use of the local taxi companies.

Partygoers have a responsibility to others on the road. Yes, you have to make sure you’re covered to protect the people on the roads who haven’t been drinking, as well as those who are under the influence but have chosen to get home safely, whether through a designated driver or a taxicab company.

Party Hosts and Minors

What’s the responsibility of someone who is hosting a party? Minnesota has two different concepts. One is called “dram shop liability,” which is the legal responsibility that falls on an establishment that sells liquor and those who work there. If you’re at a bar downtown and you’re obviously intoxicated at the time you’re served, if you go out and hurt someone, there’s potential legal liability for that bar in that circumstance. For that reason, bars must be careful, especially this time of year. Everybody wants to have a good time and be festive but the bars are not supposed to serve anyone who is showing signs of obvious intoxication.

What are the signs they look for? They can include slurred speech, red eyes, the smell of alcohol, being belligerent, and other things that officers look for when you’re behind the wheel.

What’s the other concept? The other potential liability exists for individuals who serve alcohol in their own homes. It doesn’t fall on one friend who invites another friend over to drink a few beers while watching the ball game. I don’t have a legal responsibility if that friend drives home drunk and hurts someone because I am an adult serving another adult in my home.

There is a moral responsibility in that case. Certainly. I believe there is a certain degree of moral responsibility that comes with that circumstance, obviously, in making sure you’re protecting other people. That host simply wouldn’t have the same liability as a party host.

What if the person being invited over was a minor? If you’re over the age of 21 and you provide alcohol to someone under the age of 21, there’s something called “social host liability.” Someone in that circumstance not only has some legal responsibility, but there may be civil responsibility, as well.

What if someone gets into the alcohol in your home without your knowledge? That would be a defense, that you weren’t aware and didn’t facilitate the drinking. If you didn’t provide the alcohol, you could reasonably argue that the alcohol was consumed without your knowledge.

What about a boss who has an underage employee? The same responsibilities flow to a business situation. It’s best not to provide alcohol to someone under the age of 21 who works for you.

What if you provide alcohol to a coworker who is over the age of 21? If you provide alcohol to a coworker and something bad happens, there’s not necessarily going to be legal responsibility as a result. In that instance, you aren’t a vendor of alcohol like a bar or restaurant.

Party Host Responsibility

A party host can always let invitees know that they’re welcome to spend the night. Absolutely. It’s always best to let people know beforehand that they can spend the night if they’re too intoxicated to drive. You can also let everyone know you have the number to a cab company on hand if someone needs one. That ensures nobody is enticed to drink and drive.

Party hosts should also be aware of what is going on. It’s important to be constantly aware of who’s there and who’s been drinking, as well as what they’ve been drinking and how they’re acting. As a host, you’re responsible for protecting your guests, as well as everyone else who is out on the road, just trying to enjoy the holiday season. Party hosts never want anything bad to happen as a result of our parties. Every year it seems a tragic event happens where a family loses some members or an entire family dies.

We don’t want that to happen. That’s not what the holiday season is about, that’s for sure.

If you’re planning a holiday party this season and are concerned about host liability, contact Meshbesher & Spence at 1 (888)728-9866.