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Party Hosts Bear Little Legal Responsibility

Good Question; Who’s responsible when someone drinks too much at a party?
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Alan Gionet Good Question
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Written by Alan Gionet

DENVER (CBS4) – The season for holiday parties is here, and that’s likely to mean drinking and people having too much.

“The whole mistletoe debauchery, that’s always a good time,” said one man who’s been to a holiday party or two.

We all know by now there’s the potential of criminal charges if someone provided alcohol to a minor and that leads to injury or death.

There is an open question about who’s responsible for the behavior of adults who drink at holiday parties.

We’ve heard over the years, how the hosts of those parties are responsible if someone leaves a party drunk.

But when we looked at that possibility, we found it’s far from reality.

Criminal charges are unheard of under those circumstances, and it turns out Colorado has a very weak statute when it comes to civil liability.

“There’s a lot of misinformation about the question of whether or not the host has responsibility for the intoxication or the sobriety of the guests who are there,” said James Chalat of Chalat, Hatten & Koupel.

His firm reached one of the largest settlements in state history over a DUI crash.

He’s never sued the host of a party where an adult left and caused a crash.

“Most lawyers would be very reluctant to take a case against a social host … unless the wrongdoer was a minor.”

Colorado changed its law in 1986.

“There was a political movement in the mid 80s to change negligence law to try to prevent large judgments and also to curtail negligence cases.”

“Can a social host ever be responsible for the conduct or the harm caused by someone drinking alcohol at their place?”

Asked Chalat rhetorically.

“The answer is yes and it’s similar to the tavern. It’s only when the alcohol is served knowingly to a minor.”

“The social host,” said Chalat, “Is more likely to be held liable to a drunken guest who falls through a porch railing.”

He knows. He has sued successfully on behalf of someone who went through a porch railing at a party while under the influence.

The concept was no surprise to some people we talked to in Larimer Square.

“How many people have you ever had at your party that you can monitor? Each individual. That’s absolutely absurd,” said one woman.

Others pointed out the obvious moral responsibility.

“I think that there’s a responsibility that if you’re going to alcohol at your party and you know people are going to get drunk to say you guys can spend the night.”

Johnson and Wales University’s Jorge de la Torre, Dean of Culinary Education pointed out the difficulty.

“You have no control of what happened maybe before they came to your holiday party and maybe are you the third holiday party you’ve been to that day.”

He helps train professionals who works in restaurants, bars — and who work private parties at this time of year.

“When you’re a host you’re a host until the last person leaves and that might be the next morning right?”

He had some suggestions oh what hosts can do to help keep things safe. He started with foods.

“It’s things that are kind of filling, that are kind of high carb that are high fat that people like to enjoy and nibble.

Make it easy for them because they’re at a cocktail party so don’t make them go look for a fork or a napkin … So if it look enticing and it looks easy to eat maybe they’ll be more apt to eat stuff so they can balance out drink and food.”

He suggested pouring light in the punch and for high alcohol drinks, get small cups or glasses.

Then try your best to monitor.

“You’re kind of gauging and maybe if they’ve been coming back really quickly even though they might not be drunk now you know that if they come back five times to the bar within 10 minutes you know I’m being silly, well they’re not going to be drunk in 15 minutes but you know that probably in a half an hour, an hour it’ll be too late.”

In the end he said, make sure there’s always a way to get someone a safe ride or let them spend the night. Someone’s life could depend on it.

You’ll see more of his suggestions in the video clip below:

The Colorado statute passed in 1986:

No social host who furnishes any alcohol beverage is civilly liable to any injured individual or his or her estate for any injury to such individual or damage to any property suffered, including any action for wrongful death, because of the intoxication of any person due to the consumption of such alcohol beverages, except when:
(I) It is proven that the social host knowingly served any alcohol beverage to such person who was under the age of twenty-one years or knowingly provided the person under the age of twenty-one a place to consume an alcoholic beverage; and
(II) The civil action is commenced within one year after such service.
(b) No civil action may be brought pursuant to this subsection (4) by the person to whom such alcohol beverage was served or by his or her estate, legal guardian, or dependent.
(c) The total liability in any such action shall not exceed one hundred fifty thousand dollars.

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