Legal Risks of Graduation Parties
How can you protect yourself? As in everything, you need to educate yourself. Outlined below are some of the common pitfalls and problems with hosting parties for larger groups of people.
Fort Collins already has other options for enforcing various nuisance ordinances, such as noise violations, and for criminalizing underage consumption, such as the state's Minor In Possession Ordinances. Fort Collins Police in 2014 issued 240 citations for underage possession and/or drinking and four for contributing to the delinquency of a minor (which is actually a felony in the State of Colorado). Nevertheless, proponents of the ordinance says it was designed to fill a gap left by existing ordinances, including discouraging early experimentation with alcohol and drugs by children, and combating sexual assault (THAT seems like a bit of a stretch to me, though). For a great discussion of the analysis of the City's ordinance prior to its passage, see this article here: http://www.collegian.com/2016/04/city-council-takes-stand-on-underage-drinking-passes-social-host-ordinance/159903/. In fact, the Coloradoan and Collegian have covered this ordinance and much of my data comes from these two news sources.
Basically, Police will have to right to ticket hosts even if the party is not deemed a nuisance/noisy and registering your party will be no defense providing no immunity unlike for noise violations. All officers need is a report that people are drinking alcohol or consuming marijuana underage to investigate and potentially cite violators. Keep in mind, they can still write each and every underage person for MIP, as well as investigating other charges: possession of drug paraphernalia, much?
Don’t Serve Alcoholic Beverages to Minors and/or Inebriated Guests
- An adult serving alcoholic beverages to a minor is subject to the possibility of criminal prosecution for aiding and abetting the delinquency of a minor. They are also subject to civil claims for damages for negligence - claims that can be pursued by both the minor and the minor’s parents.
- If the host serves alcoholic beverages to guests of legal drinking age that are clearly inebriated and that intoxicated guest injures a third party, either on or off the host’s premises, the host is liable for injuries under the legal theory of negligence and breach of duty of due care.
- It’s highly recommended that the host of the graduation party have a strict policy against underage drinking – the graduation party should be well chaperoned to enforce this “no drinking by minors” policy.
Know the Social Host Liability Laws in your State
- Most states have “social host liability” laws that hold the host of a social function (like graduation parties) liable for damages caused to others after serving alcohol to minors and/or inebriated guests on his/her property.
- For example: If there is an open bar at the graduation party and one of the guests becomes drunk and leaves the premises in his/her vehicle and injures someone – that injured person can sue both the driver AND the host of the party for negligence and/or potentially recklessness with the resulting exposure to the host of substantial monetary damages as well as the possibility of punitive damages if the host served the guest in an inebriated state.
Protect Guests from Hazardous Conditions on your Property
- The host of the graduation party may also be liable for injuries that occur during the party as a result of negligent maintenance of the home (e.g. large cracks in the deck, unsafe steps, electrical problems etc.).
- For example: If there are exposed wires on the floor and a guest trips on the wire while dancing and injuries himself/herself, the host is liable for the injury and may face a potential civil lawsuit because they failed to warn the guest of the danger and/or failed to take reasonable precautions to avoid the injury.
- These precautions include conducting a thorough inspection of the graduation party premises to repair any defects or clear any obstacles which may increase the risk of an accident/injury to guests. If something cannot be prepared in time for the party, clearly label the area as a “danger zone” to avoid any claims for negligence.
- In addition, party hosts should make sure that he/she has adequate homeowners’ insurance to cover any injury sustained by a guest while on his/her property. Make sure to read insurance policies to ensure that the coverage is not only current, but has adequate policy limits to meet any potential claims that may arise if a guest is injured while on the host’s property.