The middle of the holiday season means more than just busy shopping malls. It is also the time when many people host holiday parties. After attending Mora Rounds’ holiday party and consuming several adult beverages, Bitu Tipsy agreed to drive her friend Shannon home. Shannon did not know Bitu had been drinking. Unfortunately, Bitu crashed her car into a building, sending Shannon to the hospital. Shannon hires a lawyer, who learns that Mora kept serving Bitu even after she was clearly intoxicated. Does Shannon have a claim against Mora?
Non-Employers are not responsible for over-served guests
Many times when people host a party at their home, one of their initial concerns is that they don’t want to over-serve any of their guests, not only for their guests’ safety but also because of a perceived potential liability to third parties. But that perception is not reality in Texas. A social host owes no duty to prevent someone from drinking and driving. In fact, a social host is not liable for making alcohol available to individuals under 21, including minors. This policy applies both to guests and to third parties – the social host owes no obligation, even if it knows the guest is intoxicated.
But employers may be responsible for their employees
While social hosts do not owe a duty, employers may owe a duty to exercise reasonable care over their intoxicated employees if the employer affirmatively exercises control over the employee. For example, if an employer tells a noticeably intoxicated employee to leave the holiday party, the employer owes third parties the duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent the employee from causing an unreasonable risk of harm to others. This can be done by placing the employee into a cab. Conversely, if the employer takes no affirmative action, it has no duty to control the conduct of its employees. Unlike social hosts, however, Texas courts conflict over whether an employer owes a duty to an intoxicated employee when the employer affirmatively exercises control over the employee.
Tilting the Scales in Your Favor
The best move you can make this holiday season is to hire a third party to serve alcohol at your party, especially a party for your employees. Not only will it reduce (and possibly eliminate) your liability risk, but it will free you up to socialize with your guests. Have a safe and happy holiday season!