Party Rules: Staying Safe This Graduation Season

Legal Risks of Graduation Parties

My Fort Collins-based criminal defense firm gets a lot of new clients during graduation season. College graduation is undoubtedly a time of celebration. It represents growth and progress, the closing of one stage of life and the opening of another. But it also means parties. Lots of parties. 

Any occasion that warrants celebration also warrants safety and smart thinking. There are key things to remember during any party, but because graduation also often means house parties and guests who are underage, there are some key considerations for those who will be celebrating graduations this month and next. Outlined, below, are some common pitfalls and problems with hosting graduation parties, courtesy of Nicol Law, LLC and Lawyers.com.

Don’t Serve Alcoholic Beverages to Minors and/or Inebriated Guests

It’s highly recommended that the host of the graduation party have a strict policy against underage drinking, and the party should be well-chaperoned to enforce this “no drinking by minors” policy. An adult serving alcoholic beverages to a minor is subject to the possibility of criminal prosecution for aiding and abetting the delinquency of a minor. They may also be subject to civil claims for damages for negligence–claims that can be pursued by both the minor and the minor’s parents.

The consequences are serious for the minor, too. Many people don’t realize that a Minor in Possession charge for an underage person can result in the loss of financial aid for your child for a very long time.  Meaning: no federal funding for that desperately expensive higher education. As anyone knows, a criminal record will stay with you for life. A felony record, though, can also impact your voting rights, your ability to own a weapon, or could result in any number of other “collateral consequences.”

Worse yet, there is the possibility of serving someone too much, letting them drive, and having that guest kill someone in a DUI/Vehicular Homicide. Granted, these penalties are MUCH worse if you are a business serving intoxicated person(s) (for a complete discussion of the dram shop laws, see Nolo.com’s article here). But adults can also expose themselves to criminal liability. Did I mention that Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor is a FELONY?

Know the Social Host Liability Laws in your State

Most states have “social host liability” laws that hold the host of a social function (like graduation parties) liable for damages caused to others after serving alcohol to minors and/or inebriated guests on his/her property.

For example: If there is an open bar at the graduation party and one of the guests becomes drunk and leaves the premises in his/her vehicle and injures someone, that injured person can sue both the driver AND the host of the party for negligence and/or potentially recklessness. As a result, the host may be exposed to substantial monetary damages as well as the possibility of punitive damages if the host served the guest in an inebriated state.

When hosting a party, it’s important to keep a close eye on what is going on. Failure to do so can land you in a lot of trouble. Keep in mind, even if the police only charge a somewhat small offense, the District Attorney can add charges up to and including the date of trial.  

If you or your children are charged with any of these offenses, you should speak to an attorney immediately.  

Protect Guests from Hazardous Conditions on your Property

The host of the graduation party may also be liable for injuries that occur during the party as a result of negligent maintenance of the home (e.g. large cracks in the deck, unsafe steps, electrical problems etc.).

For example: If there are exposed wires on the floor and a guest trips on the wires while dancing and injures himself/herself, the host is liable for the injury and may face a potential civil lawsuit because they failed to warn the guest of the danger and/or failed to take reasonable precautions to avoid the injury.

These precautions include conducting a thorough inspection of the graduation party premises to repair any defects or clear any obstacles which may increase the risk of an accident/injury to guests. If something cannot be prepared in time for the party, clearly label the area as a “danger zone” to avoid any claims for negligence.

In addition, a party host should make sure that he/she has adequate homeowners’ insurance to cover any injury sustained by a guest while on his/her property. Make sure to read insurance policies to ensure that the coverage is not only current but also has adequate policy limits to meet any potential claims that may arise if a guest is injured while on the host’s property.

In the event things don’t go as planned, have a good attorney on your side

You may not have known how to host a safe graduation party (until now), but everyone knows what to do when they get into trouble with the law: call a lawyer.

I’ve been serving Northern Colorado for years, handling DUI cases, assault charges, and more. Schedule a free consultation with me through my online scheduler or contact me at justieforjustice@gmail.com.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: This blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship. It’s a blog post and not legal advice. Each case is different, and this post is meant for generalized knowledge, only. If you haven’t signed an engagement letter (or even received an engagement letter) AND issued some form of payment (peanuts do not count), then no attorney-client relationship exists. Nevertheless, we will do our best to ensure your confidentiality should you choose to contact us privately, but do not post about your case in the comments here (because reaching out for help with your case should be confidential, damn it).

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