SUPER SUPER BOWL PARTIES
As millions of Americans host and attend Super Bowl gatherings across the country, many may be unaware of the risks. In California, these risks have recently changed and it’s important to understand your responsibilities when inviting others into your home or business before serving food and drinks.
All homeowners in California should be aware that if a minor drives while under the influence after consuming alcohol in your home, it is an exception to the general rule that a host is not liable for the actions of adults who drink in their home, especially if that alcohol was knowingly furnished by the host to the minor (Civil Code, Section 1714(d)).
Further, the host of a gathering in their home is responsible if the food is tainted. A recent survey found that many homeowners were unaware of the risks of serving food in their home even if that food was prepared by someone other than themselves. That means many homeowners in the United States have put themselves at risk of a lawsuit just by feeding their guests.
Here are a few tips for hosts:
Watch what you eat and feed others. Even if food was prepared outside your home by a caterer, another guest, a local deli or neighborhood restaurant, you could be held liable if someone becomes ill from consuming it on your property. Make sure you check food and don’t serve anything that you suspect may be undercooked, spoiled or contaminated. Use only reputable food purveyors. Follow proper food handling, heating/cooling and storage recommendations. When in doubt, throw it out.
If your party centers on drinking, provide safe, filling food for guests and alterative non-alcoholic beverages. Know who the designated drivers are ahead of time. Host your party at a restaurant or bar that has a liquor license, outside your home or office, to decrease your potential liability. Call a cab, provide a room or have a slumber party. Arrange transportation or overnight accommodations for those who cannot or should not drive. Or just say “no!!!” Do not serve intoxicated guests. Stop serving alcohol at least one hour before the party is scheduled to end. Stay alert and always remember your responsibilities as a host. You might also consider hiring an off-duty police officer or professional to discreetly monitor guests’ sobriety or handle any alcohol-related problems.
Do your homework. When hosting a party, individuals should look to the liability portion of their homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy to protect them if they are sued and found liable for an accident involving a guest who drank or got sick after consuming food at their home. Consumers should regularly review their coverage limits to ensure they are adequately covered should an accident or illness occur.
Be aware of recent changes in the law. In many states, party hosts can be held liable if guests are involved in alcohol-related accidents. However, while California Civil Code,Section 1714, protects homeowners or renters against damages when their party guests cause accidents after consuming alcohol, the same is not true for employers hosting an event!
Recently, a San Diego Court (see Purton v. Marriott Intl., Inc. (2013) 218 Cal.App.4th 499) expanded the concept of Respondent Superior for an employee who consumed alcoholic beverages at an employer-hosted party and became intoxicated. The employee arrived home safely, but then left to drive a co-worker’s home. During that drive, the employee struck another car, killing its driver. The trial court granted summary judgment for the employer on the grounds the employer’s potential liability under the doctrine of Respondeat Superior ended when the employee arrived home.
However, the Appellate Court held that an employer may be found liable for its employee’s torts as long as the proximate cause of the injury (here, alcohol consumption) occurred within the scope of employment. It determined as irrelevant that foreseeable effects of the employee’s negligent conduct (the car accident) occurred at a time the employee was no longer acting within the scope of his or her employment.
So, if a guest or third party is injured in an accident related to alcohol consumption at an employer- hosted event, the employer could be held responsible for not only payment of medical bills, vehicle repair costs and lost time from work, but also claims for wrongful death resulting in huge monetary settlements.
While holiday partygoers and hosts alike should act responsibly and know their limits, consumers need to acknowledge that most risks cannot be entirely eliminated. However, planning ahead and learning what’s involved in hosting an event is the best defense. You may want to consider purchasing a personal umbrella liability policy providing additional overage over the limit of a standard homeowner’s or renter’s policy before hosting your Super Bowl Party, especially if your guests are also your employees!