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Hosting A Party? Know Your Liability When It Comes To Drinking

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During the summer, many people in Wisconsin have backyard parties and events planned.   Undoubtedly, there will be alcoholic beverages consumed at many of these events.   If people are drinking, hosts should encouraging a responsible approach to alcohol and have a plan in place if someone should over indulge.   If the event involves minors, it is especially important to make sure that they are not drinking.  What may seem like a harmless sip of beer can have significant financial and legal implications for the host under "Social Host" laws. Social host refers to adults who host parties where alcohol is served on property they control.


Alcohol consumption by underage drinkers is a growing national problem. People under the legal drinking age of 21 have the nation's highest rate of alcohol dependence. In addition, thousands of people in the United States are killed or injured each year as a result of alcohol-related crashes involving teenage drivers.  Wisconsin has been especially hard-hit by the teen drinking epidemic with our state having the highest national rate of underage drinking.


Most states, like Wisconsin, have enacted laws holding party hosts liable for any alcohol-related injuries that occur as a result of providing alcohol to minors. This includes injuries to the minor as well as any other individuals whose injuries or death resulted from the minor being provided with alcohol. These laws also hold social hosts liable for property damage related to such an incident.


Adults typically have a duty to refrain from negligently or intentionally supplying alcohol to minors. Hosts can be found liable for negligence especially if they knew (or should have known) the minor would have driven a car while under the influence.  Most social host liability laws are targeted toward reducing alcohol related injuries and deaths by minors. Specifically, these laws impose a duty of care on party hosts (typically a parent but any adult who is in charge) not to furnish or serve alcohol to minors. To "furnish" alcohol is to merely make it available, while to "serve" alcohol is to "knowingly and affirmatively deliver" alcohol.


If you are having a party, there are some steps you can take to help prevent underage drinking and over consumption in general.

  • Never serve alcohol to someone under the legal drinking age, and never ask children to serve alcohol at parties.

  • If it is an underage party, invite attendee's parents as well.

  • When it comes to underage attendees, make sure they know alcohol is clearly prohibited.

  • Plan activities like party games, door prize drawings or other things keep people engaged.  This will make for less alcohol consumption on your guests part.

  • Provide plenty of food to keep your guests from drinking on an empty stomach.

  • Avoid too many salty snacks, which tend to make people thirsty and drink more.

  • Have a variety of non alcoholic beverages available and, if they are in mixing bowls or dispensers, clearly mark if they contain alcohol.

  • In your invite ask about designated drivers

  • Don’t let guests mix their own drinks. Choosing a reliable “bartender” will help you keep track of the size and number of drinks that guests consume.

  • To be a good host, you should stay within your limits in order to make sure your guests stay within theirs.

  • Close the bar 90 minutes before the party ends and serve a great dessert treat with coffee.  Remember, coffee does NOT sober people up.  Only time sobers someone who has been drinking.

  • Have the number of the local cab service easily available for everyone.

  • Offer to have those who have drank too much to stay over.

  • When it comes to alcohol, remember that you can't rely on someone's physical appearance to determine if he or she has had too much to drink.  Medications that they may be taking or their tolerance to alcohol is a big factor in their intoxication level.

  • Mixers won’t help dilute alcohol.

  • Carbonated mixers like club soda or tonic water cause alcohol to be absorbed into a person’s system more quickly. Fruit juice and other sweet mixers mask the taste of alcohol and may cause people to drink more.


Taking a few party precautions can prevent a life impacting tragedy.   For information on specific statelaws regarding drinking, the Alcohol Policy Information System (APIS -https://alcoholpolicy.niaaa.nih.gov/ ) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA http://www.nhtsa.gov/Impaired ) are great resources.


At Lebell, Dobroski, Morgan & Meylink, we have over 40 years of experience in defending the rights of our clients.  Working directly with our clients on their cases, providing them with our personal cell phone numbers and meeting with them on their schedule, we invest the necessary time and effort to get the results anticipated.