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3 tips to safeguard your holiday parties from a legal hangover if intoxicated guests cause auto accidents

December 30, 2015 by Steven M. Gursten

Consider alcohol being served, dangers around your home, and what’s in your homeowners insurance policy

holiday party safety tips

On December 19, I discussed the new Michigan Court of Appeals case, Depositors Insurance Company v. Harris, et al. The case involved a car accident caused by a drunk driver who was served alcohol and killed three people. The Court ruled the crash was not an accident, and therefore that the father’s homeowner’s insurance policy owed no duty to defend the homeowner in the wrongful death lawsuit brought by the estates of the young people who were killed.

The case has important implications for Michigan personal injury attorneys, and is notable as another example of the tort laws in this state being interpreted by courts very differently than in almost all other U.S. states. Most states would recognize the public policy of protecting the innocent who are harmed by a drunk driver, or the innocent families of someone killed by a drunk driver. The court in Harris surprisingly found that a car accident was not an “accident” to absolve the insurance company from having to defend the lawsuit, leaving the families without legal recourse against the homeowner’s policy of the owner of the house where the drunk driver was drinking before getting on the road and killing three people.

But this case MUST NOT be read as a blank check of legal immunity for people who have parties, and put intoxicated people on the road after.

As many of us are putting the final touches on our holiday party planning, and as my own law firm had a great holiday party recently at Lucky Strike in Novi, MI, it’s still important to emphasize that social hosts and people who have parties with lots of alcohol may be legally liable if a guest drinks too much and causes a terrible car accident that injures or kills another.

And it isn’t just car accidents. Whether it’s your great aunt stumbling and breaking her hip on an icy sidewalk to your friend drinking too much champagne and causing a bad crash on the drive home, our attorneys wanted to share a few tips today on how to protect yourself from a lawsuit if you plan on hosting a party this holiday season.

Consider these grim statistics:

  • On average, alcohol was a factor in 38% of all fatal road crashes during the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays from 2009 to 2013. Thanksgiving topped the list, averaging 412 deaths per year.
  • Falls are the leading cause of home injury deaths, claiming nearly 6,000 lives per year. In 2010 alone, more than 660,000 adults were hospitalized due to a fall.
  • The standard minimum of $100,000 in homeowner’s liability insurance may fall short if someone is injured in your home, making you responsible for the balance. Insurance experts recommend increasing this amount.

Safe party guide video

1. Let’s start with alcohol

“Holiday cheer” is often synonymous with alcoholic beverages in many people’s minds. While this thinking sounds like fun and games, homeowners should be aware that they may be held liable if intoxicated guests leave the party and cause injury or property damage to others. Here are a few things you can do:

  • Encourage guests to pick a designated driver or call ride sharing services like Uber or Lyft.
  • Stock plenty of non-alcoholic beverages and serve food.
  • Don’t pressure guests to drink too much and cut off anyone who has already had enough.
  • Call a cab, Uber or Lyft for intoxicated guests, give them a ride (if you are sober), or offer a place to sleep at your house.
  • Never allow minors to drink.
  • Stay in control as the host by not drinking too much yourself.
  • For more info, check out this Michigan Auto Law blog post on Michigan’s drunk driving laws and safe driving tips.

2. Now, look around your home

As the property owner, you are responsible for protecting your guests from unsafe conditions on your property. Here are a few more things you can do:

  • Fix any tripping hazards like broken stairs or loose handrails, double-stick tape throw rugs and secure extension cords.
  • Remove any dangerous items that might injure children like an old freezer, a broken swing or poison hazards.
  • In colder climates like Michigan, keep sidewalks and steps free of ice and snow.
  • If you have a pool, keep gates locked or make sure kids are supervised by an adult if using the pool.
  • Consider restraining pets as you may be liable if a guest is bitten or scratched.

3. Review your homeowner’s insurance policy

The liability coverage in your homeowner’s insurance may be your final line of defense if someone is hurt during a party at your home. Below are a few things to double check:

  • Make sure your homeowners policy is in force and that your policy limits are high enough to cover an injury. Standard minimums of $100,000 to $300,000 may not be enough to cover all the costs associated with a serious injury.
  • If you have significant assets in addition to your home, consider an umbrella policy for added liability protection.
  • Check for exclusions and contact your agent if you have any questions.

Curious which is more dangerous – drinking and driving, driving with marijuana, or texting and driving? Check out this infographic on the dangers posed by each.


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