Protecting Your Association From Holiday Mishaps

By Lanier Coulter, Esq.

Published November 20, 2013

 

The holidays are fast approaching, and with them come holiday parties.  Associations may already be in the midst of planning a community party of its own.   Alcohol is commonly served at such events, leading to questions of the potential liability for an association.  Although there is no way to ensure that an association will not be sued over a situation involving the consumption or over-consumption of alcohol at an association sponsored party, an association can take steps to help minimize its exposure to such liability.

  

The general rule in Georgia is that the provider of alcohol is not liable for injuries suffered by the consumer, or third parties who are injured by the consumer, unless the alcohol provider was negligent.  Courts have found the host of a party to be negligent and, therefore, liable for the acts of an intoxicated adult when the host knowingly continued to serve alcohol to the intoxicated person and injury resulted.  Hosts who knowingly allowed intoxicated guests to drive and cause injury also have been held liable. 

 

To limit the association's exposure to a negligence claim, the association should plan holiday parties carefully and consider implementing procedures such as the following:

  • Control who serves the alcohol.  By designating owners to act as servers, it makes it easier to monitor the consumption of the party-goers and to cut off those who have too many, as well as to arrange for a safe ride for them.  Designated servers can also be responsible for checking identification to ensure that no minors are being served.

  • Provide safe rides to and from the party.  An association can either encourage owners to walk to the party, or arrange for a taxi or car service to assist with rides to and from the party location.

  • Monitor party-goers.  In addition to having designated servers, an association may also appoint certain members or personnel who do not drink to assist with those owners who may be intoxicated or may need a ride.

  • Sponsor the event but don't provide the alcohol.   An association can limit its liability if it does not provide the alcohol, or if it hires a caterer to provide and serve the alcohol.  

  • Take all reasonable precautions to ensure that no minors are being served alcohol.

It is imperative for any association sponsored event that the alcohol is not sold in any way where the Association receives the proceeds or a portion thereof, including, but not limited to, a cash bar or drink tickets.  Unless the association holds a liquor license, selling alcohol is a violation of Georgia law.

 

            If an association hosts parties where alcohol is served, then it should review its insurance policy to ensure it has proper coverage.  Even if the association is successful in defending a lawsuit arising out of the serving of alcohol at an association-sponsored party, the costs of defense can be astronomical.     

 

            Accordingly, if host liquor liability is not already included in an association's general liability coverage, the association should consider purchasing a policy or rider for the event.  Host liquor insurance covers the association's legal defense and any judgments (up to the policy limits) for claims resulting from injuries caused by a person who was served alcohol by the association. 

   

            Taking appropriate steps to limit liability can greatly help an association avoid any holiday mishaps.


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G. Lanier Coulter, Jr. - owner/founder of the firm. He is a 1998 graduate of Oglethorpe University and a 2001 graduate of Emory University School of Law, where he was the recipient

of the Attorneys' Title Guaranty Fund Award.  

 

Lanier is a member of the state Bar of Georgia and the DeKalb County Bar Association.  He is the author of "Don't Wait Until it's Too Late, Statutes of Limitation and How They Can Affect Your Association's Rights" which appeared in Georgia Commons, a Publication of Community Associations Institute of Georgia, Inc.  

 

Lanier practices primarily in the area of community association law.  Lanier assists associations in interpretation and enforcement of their governing documents (covenant enforcement and collection of assessments) and in the negotiation, financing and execution of major renovation and rehabilitation projects.  He is an instructor of continuing education courses for community association managers and attorneys, including, "Dealing With Difficult People," "Problem Solving for Planned Communities," and "Condominium Law." 

 

Currently Lanier serves as a member of the Amicus Committee the Community Association Institute and a member of the Legislative Action Committee for the Georgia for Chapter of the Community Association Institute.  He was the recipient of the 2011 Rising Star Award in the CAI-Georgia Chapter.

Contact Lanier at: glc@coulterlawfirm.net