The warmer weather means more socializing and get-togethers. Whether you’re planning a barbecue, wedding, or community event, you’ll need to take extra precautions to protect yourself and your guests while having fun.
In Rhode Island, ignorance of Social Host Laws could turn your festive occasion into a nightmare. A survey conducted by the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (IIABA) found that one-third of homeowners either did not believe or didn’t know whether they were responsible for an alcohol-related accident that takes place during or after an event that they host. As the law stands, buying or serving people alcohol when they are under legal age, or over-serving those who are of legal drinking age, could leave you criminally liable.
In 2011, a RI School Committee member found herself in hot water after serving alcohol to minors. After leaving her home, the four teens struck a tree with their vehicle and were hospitalized. She was arrested and charged with the “furnishing or procurement of alcoholic beverages for underage persons” in her home. The court found her guilty and she paid a fine and did community service. She now has a criminal record.
Social Host liability includes both criminal penalties and monetary compensation for injuries and damages. You could end up paying medical and legal bills if you do not serve alcohol responsibly. If you are the host, the courts could find you liable if you do not exhibit “reasonable care to protect the guest from harm.” Even if your guest doesn’t sue you for damages, a person they injure could.
Reasonable care includes only serving alcohol to those of legal drinking age. In Rhode Island, a person must be 21 years of age or older. The person serving the alcohol must also be over 21 years of age.
Reasonable care also includes monitoring consumption. If you over-serve guests, you may liable. The general rule is that a person can safely metabolize about one standard drink per hour regardless of their body size. A standard drink is 12 ounces of regular beer (5% alcohol), 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol) or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (40% alcohol). You may not be able to watch all your guests at a large event, but you can certainly spot those who seem drunk.
Foods high in proteins such as meat, eggs and seafood can slow down alcohol absorption significantly, especially when eaten before drinking alcohol. Consequently, serve food first and dole out alcohol slowly.
Leave high-protein snacks out so people can nibble throughout your event. Cheese and cold cut plates, seeds and nuts, and vegetables and hummus are good choices. Avoid carbohydrates such as potato chips, cheese puffs, and tortilla chips because they can accelerate alcohol absorption.
Also ensure you have plenty of non-alcoholic beverages for guests who do not want to drink. Contrary to popular belief, coffee does not sober a person up quicker. It takes time for a person’s body to process and eliminate alcohol.
As a host, you also have a duty to stay sober to stay on top of what is happening, whether you’re on your property or elsewhere. Always stop serving alcohol a couple of hours before the event is over so people have time to wind down and sober up. Call a taxi for those who appear to have had “one too many.”
If your party is on your property, you’ll want to ensure that you have proper insurance coverage, too. Your Rhode Island homeowner’s insurance policy does protect you from liability if someone trips and falls, but only up to the policy limits. You may want to buy an umbrella policy to cover amounts above and beyond those limits.
If your event takes place at an outside venue such as a hall, state park, or banquet facility, you’ll want to add it as an additional insured property on a liability insurance policy. This provides higher liability coverage and a Certificate of Insurance for the venue. Normally, premiums are lower if you do not serve alcohol, as it lowers the risk for the insurance company.