Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Pennsylvania parties: Are you liable for guest misadventures?

Uncle Harry takes a tumble down the cellar stairs at your holiday party. If your relative's intoxicated state contributed to the fall, you may be only partially liable or not liable at all. On the other hand, if Harry was a teetotaler who tripped over an unsecured stair tread, the fault may be yours.

Damages awarded in premises liability claims are based on property owner negligence. In Pennsylvania, the link between a property owner's disregard for others' safety and an injury or death must be clear. Plaintiffs must show a dangerous condition existed and that the owner was aware of it.

Many hosts serve food prepared by someone other than themselves. What if a guest's food poisoning is caused by a party tray supplied by a caterer or deli? Homeowners may be liable for tainted food eaten on their property. Then again, a caterer could be liable for selling an unsafe product. A court may have to decide how and when the food became spoiled, before deciding who is responsible for an ill guest.

Pennsylvania dram shop laws do not apply to social hosts who serve alcohol to adult guests. State courts have decided adults are accountable for their own alcohol intake and resulting behavior. The law abruptly changes when alcohol is served to a minor. A host can face criminal charges and a negligence suit for injuries or deaths caused by a minor's alcohol consumption, including off-property damage in auto accidents.

Legal and insurance experts suggest reviewing a homeowner's policy, before sending out invitations to a holiday gathering. Understand the limits of coverage and the premises liability laws that apply. Despite the exclusion of social hosts from liability in Pennsylvania, party givers are wise to set alcohol consumption limits and provide transportation or accommodations for overindulgent guests.

Guests are advised to remain aware of "reasonable" risks and limit alcoholic drinks to a festive few.

Source:, "Could You Be Serving Up A Lawsuit with That Turkey Dinner on Thanksgiving?" No author given, Nov. 22, 2013

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Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.
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Pittsburgh, PA 15222

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