It is your turn to host the annual Holiday Party. We have all been there. You have to decide what food and beverages to serve, what decorations go where, and who to invite. You contemplate how many people you want over. You’re a little nervous that the party could get out of hand. You have friends that you haven’t seen for a year and an uncle who is coming from three states away who wants nothing more than to have a few cold ones.
Until I started practicing law I never really thought of my liability exposure for throwing a party. Can I be in trouble for serving alcohol? Do I have to provide rides home? What happens if someone gets into an accident after they’ve been drinking—can I be liable?
How To Protect Your Guests
Have a jar at the front of your house for anyone who might overindulge. When people are leaving suggest using Uber or getting a taxi. Many alcohol-related injuries occur when someone who is intoxicated gets behind the wheel. The number of car accidents that occur on a daily basis increases dramatically over the Holiday season—check out the stats! You’d rather be worrying about what type of food to make rather than the legal ramifications of hosting a party. Knowing the laws regarding social hosting is important if you are going to have a party where alcohol is served. Read on to learn the laws in both Kansas and Missouri.
Although Missouri law allows an injured person to bring a civil claim against a bar or establishment for over-serving a customer, there is no civil liability for social hosts. In non-legal terms that means you will generally not be in legal trouble if someone who gets into an accident after attending your party.
What about a Bar?
If a bar or establishment is found to have served a person who is “visibly intoxicated” and then that person leaves the premises and injures another person, the bar or establishment can be held liable for damages related to the injuries. “Visibly intoxicated” means the person is inebriated to the extent that he or she shows significant uncoordinated physical action or significant physical dysfunction. The person who is injured must show by clear and convincing evidence that the bar continued to serve a customer alcohol even after noticing that he or she was visibly intoxicated. This is a much higher standard of proof than the “preponderance of the evidence” standard, which is required in most civil cases. Again, in non-lawyer words this basically means that if a bar serves a visibly drunk person alcohol they can be held liable for injuries that occur after the person leaves.
If you are injured by someone who was over-served by a bar or establishment, you may be entitled to damages, including, but not limited to, medical bills, lost wages, property damage, pain and suffering.
So, Am I in the Clear if I Serve People Alcohol in my House—Not So Fast
Social hosts cannot be held liable under Missouri civil law if they serve alcohol to someone who then goes and injures a person after leaving the premises. Thus, the person who was injured cannot sue the social host for money damages. This is true even if the social host serves alcohol to a minor. However, under Missouri law, a social host can be found criminally liable if they he or she serves alcohol to someone under the age of 21. Criminal penalties resulting from serving alcohol to a minor can include a fine and up to one year in jail.
In Kansas, it is a misdemeanor to knowingly sell, give away, dispose of, exchange, deliver, permit the sale, gift, or procure any alcoholic beverage to a person who is incapacitated, or is physically or mentally incapacitated by the consumption of liquor. Violating the applicable statute can result in a fine of, at minimum, $100 or up to 30 days in jail. It is also against the law in Kansas, like other states, to furnish alcoholic beverages to a minor. Those that do furnish alcoholic beverages can be found criminally liable, however the criminal statutes do not impose civil liability on those that furnish the alcohol.
Kansas does not have a dram shop act, which would allow for an injured person to sue a bar or establishment if they over-served a patron. Instead, Kansas follows the common law. Common law states that no redress, or money damages, exist against persons selling or furnishing intoxicating liquor for resulting injuries or damage due to the acts of intoxicated persons. Likewise, no civil social host liability exists.
We hope you take precautions when you host a party in your house. The Holidays are some of the best times of the year and we want you to stay safe. Our phone rings more during the Holidays than any other time of the year for all of the wrong reasons. While thinking about how to decorate your house, also think about how your guests will get home safely.
What are some of your safety measures you use when you have people over for the Holidays?
Robert Kinsman is a personal injury, mass tort, business litigation, and employment discrimination attorney who practices in Kansas City, Missouri. He graduated from the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Law and has been practicing law for several years now. Robert Kinsman is passionate about normalizing the life of his clients after they have been seriously injured. Learn more about his experience here.