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Holiday Party Time: Drinking and Legal Responsibility for Party Host

Published Monday, December 5, 2016

Whether it's the holiday season or that summer cookout around the pool, party host need to know their responsibilities when alcoholic beverages are served. You should already know that it's important to practice moderation. But what about the other guy? How far should you go to make sure that a friend or fellow party-goer doesn't' drink too much and gets behind the wheel of a car?

If you're hosting a party and serving alcohol, you definitely have some responsibility - and there are some important liability issues that you need to be aware of as well.

Under Georgia law, a person cannot knowingly sell, furnish or serve alcoholic beverages to someone under legal age of 21 or someone who is in a state of "noticeable intoxication."

There are three factors that have to happen under this statute:

• You provide the alcohol
• You know the recipient is drunk
• You know they will soon be driving.

That means if you're hosting a party and serve alcohol to someone who is obviously drunk, you can share in the liability for their stupid and dangerous acts.

This is covered under the Dram Shop Act Liability. It is a section of the law traditionally applied to bars and taverns that provide alcohol (a "dram" is a small serving of alcohol, hence the name "dram shop"). But there have been court rulings in which this Act has been applied to "social hosts" as well.

If you are hosting a party and know someone has had too much to drink and plans to drive home, under Georgia law, it is your duty to stop serving alcohol to that person. You are not required to stop them from driving - you just can't provide the alcohol.

But regardless of the law, it should be everyone's duty to be watchful and to prevent someone from getting into a car to drive in an intoxicated state.

There is an interesting aspect of the law. If a drunk driver is in an accident and is the only person hurt, he or she can't blame the person who provided the alcohol. It only matters when there's a third party involved in the accident.

Many employers host office Christmas parties. It's OK to spread holiday cheer among your employees, but remember that you have some responsibilities, too, to make sure that the fun doesn't go too far. You have a duty to refuse to serve alcohol to anyone who appears intoxicated and plans to drive.


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