Halloween Parties That Won't Have You Running from the Law

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Halloween is a holiday that inspires outrageous costumes and over-the-top parties for adults as well as children. If you're thinking of hosting a Halloween party for your friends or colleagues, you need to be aware of the potential legal liabilities associated with hosting such a party.

With social events such as a Halloween party, there are different types of legal liabilities that should be considered. One is the responsibility for damage to property or loss of life. There are possible scenarios in which you may be held responsible for a guest's actions during—or after—your event.

Another type of liability to keep in mind is financial. You're already going to pay for broken dishes or scuffed walls at your venue—but what about damage caused to others' property, or even personal injuries?

Here are a few scenarios to think about before throwing your next costume bash.

Potential Problem #1: Alcohol
If you're going to be serving alcohol at your party, you need to remember that you may be held responsible for your guests' actions. In some cases, the host can be left responsible for a drunken guest's behavior—even if it's after the guest has left the party. For instance, if an attendee leaves the party drunk and causes a car accident, you may be held responsible.

Alcohol may be even more of a liability if you're hosting a party for your employees. Too many drinks can reduce inhibitions and fuel inappropriate or unwelcome advances. Are you prepared to handle a sexual harassment case?

  • Consider implementing a system that limits the number of drinks a person consumes. One way to do this is by issuing drink tickets. Another way is to set-up a cash bar and have people pay for their drinks.
  • Instruct the bartender not to serve drinks to intoxicated guests. Take the time to find out if the venue or the service through which you hired the bartender has insurance. You may want to consider having guests sign a contract that clears you of any alcohol-related liability.
  • Provide lots of food to your guests to help keep things sober. Alcohol is absorbed more quickly on an empty stomach, so give guests plenty of snacking options.
  • You may not want to consume any alcohol yourself—or at least consider drinking very little. If you're alert and able to supervise your guests' behavior, you may be able to prevent alcohol-related problems.
  • Put a list of local taxi services by the door. This way, you or a guest can easily call a cab if a ride home is needed. If you are an employer, a taxi or driving service isn't just a consideration—it's a must. You want to make sure that your employees are safe and not behind the wheel. Take the time to remind your employees that you are providing a ride-service for them after the party.
  • Don't serve alcohol at your party. A dry party will help keep guests on their best behavior. However, there's no guarantee that guests won't bring their own, or drink prior to coming to your party. If you simply won't tolerate alcohol, make that very clear to your guests beforehand.
  • If you're an employer hosting a party for employees, remind your employees of any company policies, rules and regulations before the party begins. It should be made clear that all the same policies will apply outside work at company functions—including the sexual harassment policy.

Potential Problem #2: Costumes, Haunted Houses
You can't have a Halloween party without costumes and a spooky atmosphere. While fun in concept, if you're not careful you can open yourself up to liability concerns. Ill-fitting costumes, dark walkways, and startled guests can make injuries more likely.

Most hosts don't realize that if a guest trips in a dark hallway or falls while retreating from a scare in the haunted house, the host may be liable for injuries the guest incurs. When a physical injury occurs on your property, you are usually liable, especially if your actions can be seen as creating or exacerbating hazardous conditions.

  • If you're going to have a haunted house, make sure walkways are clear and guests can move freely throughout. Warn guests that the house is intended to scare them and allow them to skip it if they're uncomfortable.
  • Keep the party sufficiently lit, especially since guests may be wearing costumes that impair their vision or mobility. The last thing you want at your party is an injured guest, so carefully review the party's set-up to remove hazards and ensure guests can celebrate comfortably and safely.

A Halloween party is a fun way to relax with your friends or colleagues and celebrate the season. Just make sure you consider any potential ghouls and goblins that may pop up. Happy Halloween!

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