Could You Be Serving Up A Lawsuit with That Dinner?
Who is liable if a guest gets food poisoning or drives home drunk?
As millions of Americans host and attend Thanksgiving dinners across the street or across the country, many may be unaware of the risks. According to Trusted Choice® and the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (IIABA or the Big “I”) party hosts need to understand their responsibilities when inviting others into their homes and serving food and drinks.
“All hosts should be aware that if someone drives drunk or becomes sick after consuming food at a holiday party, the host could actually be liable,” says Robert A. Rusbuldt, Big “I” president & CEO. “In fact, a casserole could bring just as many risks as a cocktail. Before hosting a party this holiday season, you may want to consult with a Trusted Choice® independent insurance agent and ask questions.”
A 2012 survey by Trusted Choice® and IIABA 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.
The Big “I” and Trusted Choice® provide the following tips for holiday hosts and guests.
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.
Mix up the Activities, not just the Cocktails: If the party centers on drinking, guests will likely drink more. Schedule entertainment or activities that do not involve alcohol. Provide safe filling food for guests and alternative non-alcoholic beverages. Know who the designated drivers are ahead of time.
Party Elsewhere: Host your party at a restaurant or bar that has a liquor license, rather in a home or office to decrease your liability.
Call a Cab, Get a Room or Have a Slumber Party: Arrange transportation or overnight accommodations for those who cannot or should not drive home.
Just Say No: Do not serve guests who are visibly intoxicated. Stop serving alcohol at least one hour before the party is scheduled to end. Stay alert and always remember your responsibilities as a host. You might also consider hiring an off-duty police officer or professional bouncer to discreetly monitor guests’ sobriety or handle any alcohol-related problems as guests leave.
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.
Know Your State Laws and Statutes: 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.
Consider an Umbrella Policy: While holiday partygoers and hosts alike should act responsibly and know their limits, consumers need to acknowledge that most risks cannot be entirely eliminated. But planning ahead and learning about what’s involved in hosting a reception is the best defense. Purchasing a personal “umbrella” liability policy — providing $1 million or more in additional coverage over the limit of a standard homeowners or renters policy — may be a prudent move for the frequent party host.
“Thanksgiving dinner or even a neighborhood holiday potluck could have disastrous results for the host if someone is stricken with food-poisoning,” says Madelyn Flannagan, Big “I” vice president for education and research. “Whether the food served came from your kitchen, a five-star caterer or a pizza delivery truck, if you serve it, you could be liable if anyone gets sick.”
The survey was conducted for Trusted Choice® via telephone by International Communications Research (ICR), an independent research company in Media, Pa. Interviews of a nationally representative sample of 760 homeowners were conducted in November and December 2012. More information about ICR can be obtained athttp://www.icrsurvey.com.
Trusted Choice® agencies are insurance and financial services firms. They represent multiple insurance companies, offering individuals and business owners a variety of coverage choices, customized insurance plans to meet specialized needs as well as advocacy support. These firms adhere to a pledge of performance, committing them to providing excellent customer service. For more information, go towww.TrustedChoice.com.
Founded in 1896, the Big “I” is the nation’s oldest and largest national association of independent insurance agents and brokers, representing a network of approximately a quarter of a million agents, brokers and their employees nationally. Its members are businesses that offer customers a choice of policies from a variety of insurance companies. Independent agents and brokers offer all lines of insurance—property, casualty, life, health, employee benefit plans and retirement products. Web address: www.independentagent.com.