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Party Pooper: Injuries at Social Gatherings Can Be Serious. Know When Social Hosts are Liable

The holidays provide bountiful opportunities to come together with family, friends, co-workers and colleagues, share good tidings and rejoice in the spirit of the season. While social gatherings are festive occasions, they also provide ample opportunity for injuries to occur—especially when you factor in varying levels of alcohol, medication, foul weather, carelessness, recklessness, or any combination thereof.

If you host a social gathering, and a guest is injured either in/on your premises or afterward, are you responsible – either partially or wholly – for their injuries, and can you be sued?

Conversely, if you are injured either during a social event or afterward as a result of negligence or other acts, can you pursue a claim against the host/hostess or organizer in order to protect your rights, pursue the compensation you deserve and rebuild your life?

The answer to both questions depends on the circumstances—and specifically, how Ohio law addresses them. We will highlight some common examples below.

Ohio Revised Code section 4399.18, also known as Ohio’s Dram Law, allows a person who has been injured by an intoxicated individual to seek damages from an alcohol vendor, provided that:

  • the injuries in question occurred on the vendor's property and were caused by the vendor's negligence, or
  • the injuries in question occurred off the vendor's property, and the vendor "knowingly sold" alcohol to a "noticeably intoxicated" person or to a person under age 21.

The Dram Law is only applicable to vendors who are licensed to serve alcohol. Conversely, social hosts who provide alcohol to guests at private parties and events generally are not liable under Ohio law if a guest injures another person.

That said, a claim may be brought against a social host if he/she provides alcohol to a minor under age 21 who then causes injuries in a vehicle accident.

For example, let’s say Mary hosts a party, and 18-year-old Suzy attends. Mary serves alcohol to all her guests at the party – including Suzy who is not of the legal age to drink. Suzy then leaves the party and while driving home, she broadsides Milo with her car, causing Milo severe injuries.

Who is liable in this case? According to Ohio law, Milo may be entitled to bring a claim against Mary under social host liability—and, he may also be able to file a claim against Suzy for his injuries.

When Can Alcohol-Related Injury Claims Be Filed?

Since an alcohol-related injury claim is a civil lawsuit, it must be filed by the injured party directly. Furthermore, that the responsible party's liability is limited solely to monetary damages. In other words, the party being sued can, based on the outcome of the case, be held liable for things such as medical bills, property damage, lost wages and benefits, lost value, and pain and suffering.

It is critical to understand that the initial complaint in an alcohol-related injury lawsuit must be filed within two years of the date of the accident in accordance with the time limits set by Ohio's statute of limitations.

What About Other Types of Social Gathering Accidents?

Suppose Suzy decides not to drink at Mary’s party, but steps on a loose step that leads to Mary’s sunken living room, causing her to lose her balance and break her hip in the ensuing fall. Can Suzy bring a claim against Mary in this case?

Premises liability laws are dependent on the specific nature of the injured party. Specifically, there are three categories of visitor: licensee, business invitee and trespasser. In a premises liability case, a homeowner’s duties and potential liability are variable, depending on how the injured party is classified.

A licensee is someone who is on your property because you have expressly or implicitly allowed them to enter, despite the fact that your property is not open to the general public. In our example, Suzy is a social guest, and so she is classified as a licensee.

Mary, the homeowner, owes Suzy a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent injuries from a specific condition on the premises that she either knew of – or should have known of – of at the time of Suzy’s arrival at the party. This includes a duty to warn Suzy – and all other attendees – of the condition and risk involved in entering the property. In this case, that means providing adequate warning about the loose step.

So, if Mary did not warn Suzy about the loose step, then Suzy could be able to bring a claim against Mary under social premises law.

Laws involving business invitees and trespassers vary, and we will cover those in a subsequent blog.

The bottom line is this: If you host a party this holiday season, or any time of the year, don’t serve underage guests alcohol, and do your best to safety proof the premises. No home can be 100 percent safe – accidents do happen, after all – but diligence and common sense go a long way in many undertakings. Social gatherings are no exception.

If you are injured as a result of a dangerous situation at a social gathering, or as a result of a social gathering attendee’s negligent or reckless actions, your first priority is to seek medical attention. You also should speak with a highly experienced personal injury attorney. A qualified personal injury attorney has the requisite experience, knowledge, insight and perseverance necessary to obtain all the relevant facts in your case, analyze them, and determine the course of action that protects your rights and entitles you to the compensation you deserve to rebuild your life.

No Cost Evaluation

If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of social host negligence, your rights are at stake—you need to seek immediate legal advice. At Nager, Romaine & Schneiberg Co., L.P.A., our personal injury attorneys may be able to help you pursue compensation for the pain and suffering that you have been forced to endure. The experienced personal injury lawyers at NRS are highly knowledgeable in personal injury litigation, including social host liability. We fight side by side with injured victims to make sure they and their families receive compensation for negligence that caused them to be hurt. We will aggressively pursue your case and work to help you obtain the medical care and compensation you need to rebuild your life.

In the event you or a loved one has been injured as a result of social host negligence, contact the personal injury attorneys at NRS Injury Law by filling out our No-Risk Consultation form, or call (855) GOT-HURT and speak with one of our trained staff members.

Disclaimer: The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this Post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.
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