A bartender is legally liable for serving alcohol to a patron who becomes intoxicated and then injures a third party. Does a business face a similar exposure when it hosts a social event where alcohol is served, such as an open house or employee picnic?
Anytime you provide alcohol to individuals in a non-commercial manner, you are considered a social host. After the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Childs v. Desormeaux, social hosts generally are not responsible for the acts of guests that consume alcohol. However, a social host may become responsible for the acts of their guests if their conduct creates or exacerbates a risk to the public. It is important to take the appropriate steps to control your risk.
Create a Risk Management Program
An important first step in limiting your liquor liability is to implement a risk management program. The liquor liability program must have the support of management, be communicated to supervisors and employees, and include a policy advising employees to drink responsibly at company events.
The program should outline the procedures for handling intoxicated guests. This includes delegating who will assess the situation, such as hotel security or someone from your organization, and outlining appropriate actions for dealing with or removing a guest who has overindulged.
In the Event of an Incident
If an incident occurs, fill out a liquor liability incident report documenting measures taken to control the intoxicated person.
In addition to proper liquor liability planning and education, review your company’s current general liability insurance policy to determine your coverage in social-host situations.
Remember, even with the proper coverage, an events and liquor liability policy does not eliminate your exposure if alcohol service is in violation of a statute, a minor is served or an already intoxicated person is served.
It’s also important to have a program in place that includes the following recommendations when working with third-party vendors:
- When working with a vendor, such as a caterer or bartender service, verify they are licensed and insured.
- Stipulate in your vendor’s contract that only those who have received alcohol-awareness training should serve or sell alcohol at your event.
- Require the vendor to provide Certificate of Liability Insurance to include events and liquor liability coverage naming your company as an additional insured.
Promoting Safety and Sobriety at Company-Sponsored Events
To promote the safety and sobriety of your employees and guests at company-sponsored events, review the following recommended control measures:
- Serve drinks to guests rather than offering a self-serve bar.
- Set up bar stations instead of having servers circulating the room; if offered, people are inclined to accept drinks they wouldn’t have otherwise ordered.
- Place table tents at each bar reminding employees and guests to drink responsibly.
- Don’t price alcohol too low, as it encourages over-consumption.
- Offer a range of low-alcohol and alcohol-free drinks at no charge.
- Require servers to measure spirits.
- Always serve food with alcohol.
- Close the bar an hour before the scheduled end of the party.
- Do not offer a “last call” as this promotes rapid consumption.
- Never raffle alcohol or hold contests that involve buying or drinking alcohol.
- Entice guests to take advantage of safe transportation options by subsidizing taxis or promoting a designated driver program.
- If your event includes a program or speaker, schedule it for after dinner and drinks are served. This allows additional time for alcohol to wear off.