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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