If you serve alcohol to your friends when they visit your home, you may be taking on a large risk. In Massachusetts, you are held responsible for what happens to your drunken guest. It doesn’t matter if he/she lands in the hospital after falling down a flight of stairs or if drives away drunk and causes a car crash. If you allowed your friend to get drunk, you could find yourself in court. Even if your friend doesn’t sue you for damages, a person they injure in a car crash could. If you have assets to protect, it’s important to have adequate liability insurance coverage.
Under Massachusetts law “a host of a party may be held liable for the injuries suffered by others if the host knew or should have known that a guest was drunk and nevertheless gave/permitted the guest to take an alcoholic drink and thereafter, because of the guest’s intoxication, the guest negligently caused injury to others.”
Surprisingly, many people are not aware of these laws. A study by a survey by the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (IIABA) discovered that one-third of homeowners do not think or do not know if they could be held responsible for an alcohol-related accident in their home. Your home insurance policy** could come to the rescue in the event that you are sued — even if you overserve your guest and allow them to drive away drunk. Here is a common scenario of what can happen and how your home insurance would kick in.
** Please note : You will need to review your homeowners policy with your insurance representative to make sure you have the proper coverage for alcohol related incidents.
A perfect party turns sour
You’re hosting a cocktail party at your home. One of your guests, who spent much of the night sipping Rum & Cokes, decides to drive home. You don’t object because he doesn’t appear intoxicated and you didn’t keep tabs on how much each guest drank. While driving home, your friend crashes his car and lands in the hospital for a few days. Because he doesn’t have any insurance, he decides to sue you for his medical bills and car damage that totals $80,000. Fortunately, you have home insurance that specifically covers this and with a liability limit up to $100,000. Your insurance company will investigate to determine if you were negligent (in this case, you were, because you didn’t pay attention to how much your guests drank).
If a claim is filed against you, your insurer pays for your legal representation and either fights the case in court or settles. But if you were sued for more than the limits of your policy, you’d be responsible for paying the remainder. Most insurance agents recommend buying liability coverage between $300,000 and $500,000. If you have many assets to protect, such as a house, savings or investments, consider buying an umbrella policy. Umbrella coverage, which provides liability coverage above and beyond your car and home insurance, typically starts at $1 million. This coverage is especially helpful when you’re sued by more than one person. In some states, if your drunken friend causes an accident that injures other people, and his drinking is linked to you, those third parties may sue you for negligence too. You could be held responsible for their medical bills, vehicle-repair costs, lost time from work or even wrongful death. In some circumstances, you may find yourself facing criminal charges — especially if a death is involved. These criminal charges would be in addition to any negligence charges that are handled in civil court. Your insurance company will not represent you in criminal court; it will only handle the civil aspect of your case.
If you serve your guests alcohol, here are some smart preventatives:
Encourage guests to pick a designated driver who will refrain from drinking alcohol.
Limit your alcohol intake so that you can better judge your guests’ sobriety.
Make nonalcoholic beverages available and always serve food. Food helps counter the effects of alcohol.
Never continue to serve guests who are visibly intoxicated.
Stop serving liquor toward the end of the evening. Switch to coffee, tea and soft drinks.
If your guests drink too much or appear too tired to drive, call them a cab, arrange a ride with a sober guest or allow them sleep at your home.
Encourage all your guests to wear seatbelts when they drive home. Studies show that seatbelts save lives.
Here at Donald J. Medeiros Insurance Agency our goal is to try to help our viewers by outlining potential exposures and suggest solutions for all insurance needs. By no means we can address a viewers’ specific insurance policy in every incident. So, we strongly advise to check with an insurance agent to ask about it’s specific coverages.