Hosting an Event This Summer? Know Your Legal Duties!

Howard Raphaelson
Partner, Attorney

Few times of year are better than summer for hosting a spectacular event or party in New York City. Whether you are planning a large outdoor gathering or a fashionable indoor gala, take the time to understand the legal responsibilities that come with being a host. Doing so can help you avoid unnecessary legal trouble and all the hassles that come with improper planning (at least from a legal perspective). By keeping the following responsibilities in mind, you will be well on your way to planning a great event that has no legal downside.

Legal Responsibilities of the Host

The duties of a host are really not so different from the responsibilities of a homeowner who invites people over for a party. Simply put, if someone is injured as a lawful guest at the host's party or event, the host will be liable for the injuries suffered if the host's negligence served as the cause of the injury.If you take only one piece of advice from this article, make it this one: Make sure nothing you do as a host could be construed as negligent. Prioritize the safety of guests by focusing on the safety of the premises, the safety of the event/party environment, and the consumption of alcohol.

Premises Liability and Creating a Safe Event

If someone is injured during your event, they will have to demonstrate a few things in order to establish a successful premises liability case against you. First, they must lawfully be on the property. If you are hosting an event, this criteria will likely be met unless they snuck in uninvited.Second, they must show that the host was negligent in dealing with an unsafe condition that caused their injury. Generally, this means that the host knew or should have known about a dangerous condition of the event/party space and failed to remedy the danger by repairing it, roping it off or warning guests of the unsafe condition.In effect, make sure you take the time to fully inspect the space where the event or party will be held. Take steps to repair, rope off, and/or inform guests of any dangerous conditions that should be avoided.By doing so, you will greatly reduce the risk of being held liable for any injuries that might occur during the event.

Here Are a Few Useful Tips to Consider When Creating a Safe Party or Event Environment:

  • Make sure there are no obstructed views that could be conducive to tripping/falling
  • Provide quality lighting in any areas that could be deemed unsafe
  • Make sure wiring and cables are covered and kept away from the heavily trafficked walking areas during the event
  • Minimize or take steps to eliminate the risk of wrinkled carpeting that could cause trips
  • Fix or rope off any uneven walking surfaces or steps; if this is not possible, be sure to warn guests of all uneven surfaces

If you are hosting at home and have friends who live life on the edge, to put it nicely, make sure your homeowner's insurance is up to date. A good policy will provide you with limited coverage to personal injury and property damage to others that occur on your property, even if you are legally responsible.

If you plan on hosting at your home regularly, it is well worth taking the time to see what types of claims are covered under your policy and what types of coverage are available to you.

Ensuring Guests Drink Responsibly

At most events and parties, it is a foregone conclusion alcohol will be involved in some way. That said, you have a duty as a host to ensure alcohol is consumed responsibly.

From the start, this means making sure no underage guest has the ability to drink on your watch. For this reason, it is ideal to appoint whoever serves alcohol with the responsibility of serving only guests of 21 years or more.

It is also a good idea to generally serve lower alcohol beverages like beer and wine, rather than liquor. If you do serve liquor, which is an understandable event decision, perhaps temper the risk by limiting guests to two alcoholic drinks via a ticket system.

Then, you can choose your menu items accordingly to minimize the risk of drunken behavior. High protein foods are a great way to slow the absorption of alcohol.

Finally, it is highly advisable to stop serving alcohol at least an hour prior to the event or party's end. New York social host liability laws apply to hosts of parties and hosts who allow drinking in their home.

Hosts who serve alcohol can be held legally responsible for serving alcohol to a minor who drinks, drives, and causes an accident. Similarly, hosts can be held accountable under a general negligence claim if an obviously drunk person is allowed to drive after leaving the event or party.

In summary, the best way to protect yourself as a host is to keep the premises of the party or event space safe while also ensuring that guests drink responsibly.

Howard Raphaelson
Partner, Attorney
Howard A. Raphaelson founded Raphaelson & Levine Law Firm, P.C. in 1992 after graduating from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City, NY. With over thirty years of experience as a personal injury lawyer, he has earned a trusted reputation from his peers, judges, and top leaders, including recognition among the top 5% injury attorneys as a “Super Lawyer” (Thomson Reuters) and “New York’s Best Lawyers” (New York Magazine).

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