Tis’ the season to have holiday parties. Many of us enjoy the holiday season by engaging in social activities throughout the month of December. For adults who host parties often wonder what exposure they have to civil liability if their guests get intoxicated and drive home. As personal injury lawyers in Charleston, we have seen many scenarios where social host liability comes into play. The rules are different if the party is held at a location such as a rented-out bar or reception hall. This article will address some of the areas where a host may or may not be liable for a party at the host’s house.
Serving Alcohol to an Adult Guest in South Carolina
There is NO liability in South Carolina for a guest’s injuries when an adult social host serves alcohol to an adult guest who gets behind the wheel and injures themself. Regardless, we strongly encourage everyone, hosts, and guests, to discourage intoxicated people from driving and to convince the person to hand over the keys and catch a cab or spend the night. Also, having food and water available can come in handy when folks are drinking.
Serving Alcohol to a Minor Guest in South Carolina
If a social host intentionally serves or allows to be served a person under 21 years old, the host is liable to the minor and to any third person who is harmed due to the minor’s intoxication. The law in South Carolina is unclear whether a host who negligently serves alcohol or allows to be served a person under 21 years old would be liable for any injuries caused by the minor, so any hosts should err on the side of caution and have strict “no drinking” policies for underage people at their party and should not leave alcohol in a place where the underage people can easily consume it. Finally, remember that providing alcohol to an underage person is a crime.
Hazards on the Property in South Carolina
Hosts have no obligation (called a “duty” by the courts) to inspect the property to look for hazards when it comes to social guests, but they do have a duty to warn social guests of hazards they know of on the property, such as sharp edges on appliances or loose boards on steps or a deck. However, do not let this statement cause you to lower your guard. A homeowner could be liable to a commercial visitor, such as a pest control representative. So, you should look for hazards around your property, correct them as best as you can, and warn people if the hazard can’t be corrected. The hazards could be as obvious as a broken step or as innocuous as a step that tends to get slippery or icy. Make sure it is well-lit around your pool so no one falls in. Don’t leave fires unattended. Click here for a more detailed discussion on premises liability.
Dangerous Activities in South Carolina
Whether you put a trampoline in your backyard or shoot fireworks on New Year’s Eve, you have an obligation to your guests to do so safely. For example, a trampoline should be inspected regularly for busted springs or tears that could cause it to be more dangerous. Fireworks should not be used unless you know that all of your guests are positioned in safe locations. If you have kids in your home, all firearms should be under lock and key. Don’t set up your horseshoe pit right next to the 12 lawn chairs you put out. The list of examples goes on, so use your common sense.
Strict Liability for Dogs in South Carolina
South Carolina has “strict liability” dog laws. This means that if your dog bites someone, you are automatically liable for the injury unless you can show the dog was provoked. So, if you have any concerns that your dog could bite someone, you should put your dog away prior to the party. Even if your dog isn’t normally a “biter,” consider whether it is possible that a young child at your party could try to feed your dog, then take the food back and get bitten. Something so innocent could cause great injury to a young child, and some insurance policies have exclusions regarding dog bites, so you may not even be covered. Click here for a more detailed discussion of dog bite law in South Carolina.
Noise and Nuisance Laws in South Carolina
Keep in mind that there may be noise ordinances that apply to your house. Know what they are and respect your neighbors. Fines on noise complaints can be in excess of $1,000 depending on where you are. You may also give a head’s up to your neighbors, and give them your cell number. Ask them to call you before calling the police if there are any issues. Most neighbors will gladly give you a chance to fix the problem before calling law enforcement. Also, ask your guests to not park in the neighbor’s yard or to block their drives in any way.
There are few in every bunch – the people most likely to throw someone in the pool, to sneak beers to the 17-year old nephew, to bring illegal substances into your home, to be so loud that the neighbors do call the police, to start a fight, to fall off the front porch, etc. As fun as these people “sometimes” are, they are also your liability. Be careful who you invite.
We can’t possibly cover every possible occurrence that can happen at a party at your house. We see surprises in our law practice regularly. The best advice is to use common sense, don’t get out of control, make sure your homeowners’ insurance policy is paid up, consider purchasing an umbrella policy . . . and have fun this holiday season!