Holiday Parties Can Be Dangerous

The holiday party season is just around the corner. If you are considering hosting a party for customers and other business associates this year, whether at your office or home or in a restaurant or rented facility, you want to be sure the event is not ruined by an insurance or liability issue – and there are plenty of issues to consider.

Liquor Liability. Even though Texas courts have not imposed a duty on social hosts similar to the liability imposed on bars and restaurants for serving alcohol to intoxicated patrons, you could be held liable under Texas law if you charge for drinks or serve an alcoholic beverage to a minor. But the legal details are not the only thing you should be concerned about. You don’t want to be responsible for an alcohol-related accident involving one of your guests. Serving alcohol in a responsible way keeps you out of the court house – and it’s the right thing to do. Here are a few tips to keep your party-goers and others safe from the effects of over-imbibing:

  •  If you hire a bartender, make sure he or she has participated in a seller certification course for certification by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
  • Don’t force drinks on your guests or rush to refill their glasses right away.
  • Always serve food and have non-alcoholic drinks available for guests.
  • Have jiggers or self-measuring, one-ounce bottle spouts at the bar to measure alcohol for mixed drinks. Guessing the amount of alcohol for drinks can lead to excessive drinking.
  • Stop serving alcohol before the party is over, but continue serving non-alcoholic drinks and food.

DON’T LET PEOPLE DRINK AND DRIVE. Car pooling and cabs can save lives. It’s the responsibility of everyone (especially the host of the party) to stop drinkers from driving. If necessary, take away the car keys and invite guests to spend the night in a hotel at your expense.

Rented Facility. If you plan to rent a facility for your party, such as a community recreation hall or country club, you may unknowingly assume responsibility for damage to the facility. Your regular business liability policy probably won’t cover the damage in full, so here are some ideas for handling this exposure:

  • Purchase a special event policy that covers all kinds of damage to the rented facility, as well as other things. The problem with this type of policy is that it typically provides a limit of only $1,000,000. That may not be enough.
  • Some business umbrella liability policies cover damage to rented property with a small deductible. Ask your agent if such a policy is available for you. And be sure to consider purchasing a high limit of liability.
  • The best solution is to require the venue to waive the right of their insurance company to subrogate against you.  Most commercial property insurance policies allow such waivers if they are in writing and executed prior to a loss. The waiver can be added to the rental agreement or drafted as a standalone document. Ask your attorney to assist you with the appropriate wording.

Valet Parking. If you want to impress your guests (or there isn’t enough parking space at the party venue), you may consider hiring people or using existing employees to help park the guests’ cars. Doing so creates a number of potential liability exposures, some of which are very complicated issues as far as your business insurance policies are concerned.

You may be liable for injury or damage caused by the parking activities, including damage to the car being parked, as well as injury to the people hired to do the parking. Your business auto and general liability policies do not provide coverage for some of these exposures.

Our best advice if you want or need to furnish valet parking at your party is this: Hire a professional valet parking service and ask them to furnish evidence that they have insurance (called a “certificate of insurance”), including coverage for damage to the guests’ vehicles. Your agent can help you evaluate the certificate to be sure it provides the needed coverage. If you decide to go the “do-it-yourself” route, let your agent know so he or she can find the right type of policy or make adjustments to your current policies to cover these exposures.

Limits of Liability. When you are in charge of a large group of people, such as at a hosted party, there is a chance that something will go wrong in a big way. If people are injured or property is damaged, you may be on the hook financially. That’s why it’s a good idea to be sure you have high limits on liability insurance on your business policies. An umbrella liability policy can provide those limits, as well as fill some gaps in your coverage. Let your agent help you find the right umbrella policy for your business.

Holiday parties are fun and help forge a long-term relationship between your business and your customers and vendors. It takes time to plan a successful party. Use a little of that time to talk to your agent about your plans and let him or her address any insurance issues that may arise before, during or after the party.

This article was prepared and made available to your agent by the Independent Insurance Agents of Texas, which is solely responsible for its content. Please read your insurance policy. If there is any conflict between the information in this article and the actual terms and conditions of your policy, the terms and conditions of your policy will apply. The Independent Insurance Agents of Texas is a non-profit association of more than 1,800 insurance agencies in Texas, dedicated to helping its members succeed, in part by providing technical resources that explain insurance policies sold to their customers.

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