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Rudolph’s nose is too red…Take his keys!

Halloween marks the beginning of holiday season and also provides the opportunity to gather friends, family and coworkers together to celebrate. But hosts who serve alcohol should take steps to limit their liability and make sure they have the proper insurance.


Social host liability, the legal term for the criminal and civil responsibility of a person who furnishes liquor to a guest, can have a serious impact on party throwers. At least half of the provinces have Occupiers' Liability legislation which means that anyone who has control over premises (renters, owners, and special occasions) could be responsible for injuries to people who are invited onto the premises. This includes being responsible for the condition of the premises; the conduct of the guests; and incidents coming from the activities allowed on the premises.


Before planning a party in your home, it is important to speak with your insurance broker/agent about your homeowner’s coverage and any exclusions, conditions or limitations your policy might have for this kind of risk.  Whether you are hanging out with a small group of friends for cocktails or throwing a large company bash, remember that a good host is a responsible host, and needs to take steps to ensure guests get home safely if they have been drinking.


If you plan to serve alcohol at a holiday party, here are some tips to promote safe alcohol consumption and reduce your social host liability exposure:

  • Consider venues other than your home for the party. Hosting your party at a restaurant or bar with a liquor license, rather than at your home, will help minimize liquor liability risks. 
  • Hire a professional bartender. Most bartenders are trained to recognize signs of intoxication and are better able to limit consumption by partygoers. 
  • Encourage guests to pick a designated driver who will refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages so that he or she can drive other guests home. 
  • Be a responsible host/hostess. Limit your own alcohol intake so that you will be better able to judge your guests’ sobriety. 
  • Offer non-alcoholic beverages and always serve food. Eating and drinking plenty of water, or other non-alcoholic beverages, can help counter the effects of alcohol. 
  • Do not pressure guests to drink or rush to refill their glasses when empty. And never serve alcohol to guests who are visibly intoxicated. 
  • Stop serving liquor toward the end of the evening. Switch to coffee, tea and soft drinks. 
  • If guests drink too much or seem too tired to drive home, call a cab, arrange a ride with a sober guest or have them sleep at your home. 
  • Encourage all your guests to wear seatbelts as they drive home. Studies show that seatbelts save lives. 
  • Know your guests - it is much easier to track the changes in behaviour of those you know.
  • Try to serve all drinks yourself and avoid self-serve bars to track and monitor your guests' consumption. Consider hiring a bartender trained in alcohol service.
  • Meet, Greet and Repeat - meet and greet all your guests as they arrive in order to determine if they have had anything alcoholic to drink before arriving. If the party is an open house or cocktail format, repeat the process as guests leave.
  • Keep the phone numbers of cab companies handy and tell the guest that a cab has been ordered - don't give them the option to refuse.
  • Call the police - If the person refuses to give the car keys or spend the night at your house, call the police. It may seem drastic, but it could be a choice between that of an upset friend or far more tragic consequences.