Is Your Holiday Party Covered?

You’re having a holiday party to tell your employees how much you appreciate them. Hooray! However, the Driving Under the Influence (DUI) laws in Washington State have been changing so rapidly that it can make your head spin. It seems almost every month a business shows up in the news with a lawsuit naming them partially or fully liable for an accident that resulted in a DUI injury or death under the “dram shop” laws. These laws hold businesses accountable for over-serving patrons.

To protect themselves, businesses have the option of buying Liquor Liability Insurance. However, according to the Seattle Times, only around 35% of businesses hold this insurance due to the high cost. This leads to some questions.

Do I need extra insurance for my holiday party?

Generally, extra liability insurance is only needed if extra liability exists. Most businesses have insurance covering injury on their premises. That should be enough as long as you follow the Washington State liquor control board’s definition of a “private event” that does not require a banquet permit.

The Liquor Control board classifies your party as a private event if:

  • The party does not intend or result in any financial gain.
  • The party does not charge for admission or anything provided at the function. (including donations)
  • The party is not open to the public in any way.
  • The party has not hosted an organization or business entity (must be thrown by the owner or CEO, a person[s]).
  • The event is too big to be held in an individual’s home.

What happens if there’s a DUI after the party?

Event-specific insurance is available, which can have liquor liability provisions. However, if you know you have a crew of heavy drinkers and you choose to get the $10 banquet permit and charge for some of the liquor or food, then be careful not to serve individuals displaying obvious signs of drunkenness. You may want to consider:

  • Collecting keys –Collecting car keys and handing them back as soon as an intoxicated individual is in a taxi is a good way of showing “duty of care.”
  • Taxi vouchers – Many cab companies provide vouchers that you can hand out upon request that allows the individual to take a taxi home and the company is charged later.
  • Food First –Lots of rich food served early can seriously curb the degree of intoxication.
  • Limit the time of the party –This may limit the degree of intoxication. If the crew wants to change venues and keep on drinking they can.

You can certainly call the Hospitality Practice Group for more information about your specific party. We may be able to help you keep the party exposure free…from an insurance perspective that is.

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