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Holiday drinking can bring hosts liability problems

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MONROE, La., (KNOE 8 News) - With holiday parties almost on every street corner this month, many of us may be unaware of the risks we may be taking. It would be a very good idea for party hosts need to understand their responsibilities when inviting people into their homes and serving food and drinks.

Experts are noting that holiday hosts need to be aware that if someone leaves their party and drives drunk or becomes sick after consuming food at a holiday party, the host could actually be liable.

In fact, a casserole could bring just as many risks as a cocktail. A recent survey found that almost three-fourths of homeowners had served food in their home that was prepared by someone other than themselves. That means more than 111 million homeowners in the United States have put themselves at risk for a lawsuit by just feeding their guests.

According to insurance experts, whether the food served came from your kitchen, a pizza delivery truck or a five-star caterer, if you serve it, you could be liable if anyone gets sick. Even a simple neighborhood holiday potluck could have disastrous results for the host if someone is stricken with food-poisoning.

So what is one to do?

First, do your homework. When hosting a holiday party, individuals should look to the liability portion of their homeowners or renters insurance policy to protect them if they are sued and found liable for an accident involving a guest who drank or got sick after consuming food at their home. Consumers should regularly review their liability coverage limits to ensure they are adequately covered should an accident or illness occur.

Then, watch what you eat and feed others. Even if food was prepared outside your home by a caterer, another guest, a local deli or the neighborhood pizza joint, YOU could be held liable if someone becomes ill from consuming it on your property. Make sure that you check food and don't put anything out that you suspect may be undercooked, spoiled or contaminated. Use only reputable food purveyors. Follow proper food-handling, heating/cooling and storage recommendations. When in doubt, throw it out.

Then, there's alcohol. In many states, party hosts can be held liable if a guest is involved in an alcohol-related accident. Many courts have found hosts liable for damages their party guests cause as a result of consuming alcohol and then driving motor vehicles. Many states have also enacted statutes that can be interpreted as mandating non-commercial social host liability. So, if a guest or third party is injured in an accident that is related to alcohol consumption and the drinking can be linked to you, you could be held responsible for the payment of medical bills, vehicle repair costs, lost time from work and — in the worst case — claims for wrongful death resulting in huge monetary settlements.

Always good advice when it comes to holiday partying: Arrange transportation or overnight accommodations for those who cannot or should not drive home. And a given would be, do not serve guests who are visibly intoxicated.

You can also stop serving alcohol at least an hour before the party is scheduled to end. Stay alert and always remember your responsibilities as a host.

And in our area here in North Louisiana, be aware--and make sure your guests are aware--that during the month of December, every law enforcement group out there is working even harder than usual to spot impaired drivers and will have a number of DUI checkpoints operating almost on a daily basis.

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