To Serve or Not to Serve?

This week’s column was written by my law partner Kimberly Sullivan, whose practice is focused on liability and insurance defense and risk management.

Q:  Our HOA is planning a fall party at the community clubhouse, and we want to serve (but not sell) alcohol.  How can we minimize our risk?

A:  Selling alcohol at a community party would require a license from the local ABC board. You are free to serve alcohol at a party for no charge without a license, but there are risks involved with that – primarily the risk of someone over-indulging and doing harm to themselves or others.   However, there are several simple steps you can take to minimize your risk:

  • Limit the beverage menu to wine and beer.
  • Have a volunteer at the entrance to the event to check IDs and hand out drink tickets – we recommend no more than two tickets per attendee.
  • Do not allow attendees to serve themselves. Have two (not one) volunteers handling ticket taking and beverage hand-out, and keeping note as best as possible whether anyone seems to be repeatedly coming back for more.
  • Have plenty of non-alcoholic beverages and food available.
  • Have two other volunteers designated to monitor the group for anyone who seems too inebriated (some may show up having already “imbibed” or may bring their own).
  • If the event is expected to last more than two or three hours, consider serving the alcohol for only the first hour or two.
  • Have a defined event time (like 6-9 PM) and stick to it.
  • All volunteers should be alert for anyone inebriated and explore whether they need a ride home, or offer an Uber, etc.
  • If there is real concern that this will be a rowdy group, you could also have people write their name on a list contemporaneously as they turn in their drink ticket. Then if something goes bad, there is a list to show that only two drinks were provided to them by the HOA.  Require the attendees to write their own names on the list, and require them to abide by the procedure or the list will be meaningless.  The volunteers need to pay attention and make sure the attendee signs the list before handing out the beverage. While this may seem a bit onerous, this list can help show the safeguards taken.
  • Contact your HOA’s liability insurance carrier about obtaining a single-event insurance policy.

This column was originally published in the Charlotte Observer on October 13, 2018. © All rights reserved.

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