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Party Time? Social Hosts Should be Aware of Responsibility/Liability for Guests

The holiday season is a joyful time full of social celebrations.  Unfortunately, things can go wrong.  As a social host, you should be aware of your responsibilities to your guests.  For instance, did you know that social hosts are generally liable for injuries sustained while guests are on their property?  Or that, under Indiana law, a person who “furnishes” (including selling, serving, or giving) alcohol to a person who then causes injury to another can be liable for the injuries?

Putting these issues in the spotlight, the Indiana Supreme Court recently rendered a decision holding that a social host can be held responsible for the death of a guest after failing to seek proper medical care for injuries the guest sustained at a party.

In the case in point, Angela Martin and her boyfriend, Brian Brothers, co-hosted a house party in May 2010.  Brian purchased alcohol for the party with a joint credit card he held with Angela.  Brian drank over the course of the night and became intoxicated.  In the early morning hours, a fist fight broke out between Brian and two party guests.  Angela later found the two guests wounded.  However, she decided not to call police after confirming that they were still breathing.  Shortly thereafter, one of the guests died from his injuries.  Angela was then sued by the estate of the deceased as well as the surviving guest.  They alleged that she was negligent in furnishing alcohol to Brian, negligent in causing the fist fight (due to Brian’s intoxication), and negligent for failing to seek medical care for the guests’ injuries.

The law states that a person who furnishes alcohol to a person who then causes injury to another is liable for the injuries if: (1) the person who furnished the alcohol had actual knowledge that the person was intoxicated at the time, and (2) the intoxication was a “proximate” or foreseeable cause of the injuries.

The Court held that Angela was not negligent with regard to “furnishing” alcohol to Brian.  Because they both jointly purchased and owned the alcohol at the same time, it was impossible for Angela to “furnish” it to Brian.  The Court also held that Angela did not have to a duty to prevent the fist fight, as it was unforeseeable.

The Court did rule, however, that she had a duty to seek medical care for the injured persons because it is foreseeable that injuries suffered while on a host’s property could worsen.  Angela’s failure to seek medical attention could be considered negligent and a breach of this duty.

Angela surely could not have conceived of things going so horribly wrong at her house party.  While not everything is within a social host’s control, before you host a social gathering, it’s important to remember the following:

  • Inspect your home for dangers that could cause injury, such as a wobbly handrail or broken step, and make the proper repairs;
  • Limit the amount of alcohol served to guests;
  • Ensure departing guests are not intoxicated or have a designated driver; and
  • Seek prompt medical care for any guest who becomes injured.

With proper planning, you can have a safe and happy holiday season.

For more information about this or any matter related to social host and premises liability, please contact KDDK attorney Mallory Deckard at mdeckard@KDDK.com or (812) 423-3183, or contact any member of the KDDK Litigation, Trials and Appeals team.

About the Author

Mallory C. Deckard

Mallory C. Deckard

Mallory Deckard represents individuals, businesses and other clients with consistency and confidence. An even-keeled litigator and proactive counselor, she primarily practices insurance, personal injury, medical malpractice, family, creditors’ rights and bankruptcy, and debt collection law.  A native of Avon, Indiana, Mallory practiced personal injury law and medical malpractice law at firms in Indianapolis and Evansville before joining the KDDK team.

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