Avoid Massachusetts Social Host Liability by Having Guests Sign Waivers?

It’s the Holiday Season, and that means house parties, correct? My parents, neighbors and relatives had them each year, and they were always fun, lighthearted events. The only thing most people needed to be really concerned about was whether your oddball relatives would cooperate, or whether the food would be good. However, things are different nowadays, aren’t they? (Note: I didn’t say “better,” I said “different.”)

In the newest social development to give rise to the ongoing debate of whether people these days think & act foolishly, or prudently, consider Exhibit “A” on that topic: It seems that an idea is circulating around the internet, suggesting that Massachusetts residents who plan on throwing a holiday party in their home, might want to present a Liability Waiver to their guests who arrive at the front door. Yes, you read that correctly: A Liability Waiver, otherwise known as a Release of Liability, supposedly waiving any liability claims against the homeowners, for any injuries the guest might suffer at or after the gathering to which the guest has been invited. Presumably, this idea was cooked up to supposedly protect the homeowner if the guest was injured because he or she drank too much alcohol at the party, and somehow became injured at or immediately after the party. This idea arose over the internet, presumably because the non-lawyer people who dreamed this idea up, think that it will actually work.

Not exactly. The legal reasons for this are twofold: 1) First, such a waiver would only act to possibly – though not certainly – prevent a liability claim by the guest, and the guest only, for injuries he or she suffered as a result of becoming intoxicated at the party. Such a Release would not act to automatically prevent a successful claim against the homeowner under Massachusetts social host law. It might act to reduce the homeowner’s proportion of negligence within the case if an issue of comparative negligence were raised, but how much protection it would provide would be highly variable case-to-case, and would be highly dependent on the surrounding facts and circumstances particular to each case. 2) No such Release or Waiver would ever act to bar liability claims of third parties who might be injured as the result of a drunken party guest. For example, if a guest became intoxicated at a house party, left the house, drove away in his car and struck and injured or killed an innocent third party, that third party would still be able to sue the homeowners under the Massachusetts social host law.

As a Boston, Massachusetts Social Host Liability Attorney, I’ve seen a wide variety of cases come before me. For a case like this to succeed, a number of factors need to come together, and it takes a very experienced Massachusetts Alcohol Liability Lawyer to successfully litigate and win these cases. So, for those who are throwing holiday parties in their home, try a different set of tactics: Use common sense: Limit the number of guests to a reasonable amount that you can comfortably observe. Monitor your guests’ alcohol consumption. Hide the car keys of anyone appearing at all intoxicated.

P.S.: If you have a dog and Fido doesn’t like strangers, put him or her in the basement with a chew toy and water for the night. Because you won’t get out of hot water if Fido bites a guest, either.