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Survey Finds Many Homeowners Unaware of the Risks and Responsibilities of Hosting a Holiday Party

Who is Liable When Guests Drive Drunk, Get Food-Poisoning or Burn Down the House?



(Alexandria, VA – Dec. 18, 2008) —As millions of Americans host and attend holiday parties across the street or across the country, many are unaware of the risks they may be taking or of their own responsibilities to ensure their guests don’t hit the road drunk, according to a new national survey on homeowner’s insurance issues by Trusted Choice® and the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (the Big “I”).

For the survey, homeowners were asked if they believed they were legally liable if a guest caused an alcohol-related traffic accident after leaving a holiday party at the respondent’s home. Additionally, they were questioned about the liability responsibility of a guest destroying a house with a careless act such as leaving a candle unattended or smoking indoors. Respondents were also asked if they thought they would be legally liable if a guest was injured on the sidewalk in front of their property or suffered food-poisoning from catered food while attending a holiday party at their home. Alarming percentages of homeowners either thought they could not be held liable in these situations or admitted they didn’t know. 

“Holiday hosts and guests should understand their insurance needs and rights to protect their homes, guests and themselves,” says Big “I” President & CEO Robert A. Rusbuldt. “Injuries and lawsuits can make a party memorable for the wrong reasons if consumers don’t understand their policies, so we advise them to consult with their Trusted Choice® independent insurance agent and ask questions.”

“With so many people throwing and attending parties between now and New Year’s, it is frightening to see such a lack of knowledge on these important issues of safety and responsibility,” says Madelyn Flannagan, Big “I” vice president for education and research. “Especially during this season, consumers need to be cautious and smart about how they celebrate.”

The Big “I” and Trusted Choice® provide the following tips for holiday hosts and guests.

IS A PARTY HOST RESPONSIBLE IF A GUEST DRIVES DRUNK?

The Trusted Choice® survey found that about one-third of homeowners did not think or did not know if they could be held responsible in the event of an alcohol-related accident. In fact, in many states, individuals hosting holiday parties can be held liable. Many courts have found hosts liable for the damages their party guests cause as a result of consuming alcohol at their social gatherings and then driving motor vehicles. Many states have also enacted statutes that can be interpreted as mandating non-commercial social host liability. In these situations, if a guest or third party is injured in an accident that is related to alcohol consumption and the drinking can be linked to you, you could be held responsible for the payment of medical bills, vehicle repair costs, lost time from work and — in the worst case — claims for wrongful death resulting in huge monetary settlements.

Do Your Homework:  When hosting a holiday party, individuals should look to the liability portion of their homeowners or renters insurance policy to protect them if they are sued and found liable for an accident involving a guest who drank at their home. Consumers should regularly review their liability coverage limits to ensure they are adequately covered should an accident occur.

Consider an Umbrella Policy: While holiday partygoers and hosts alike should act responsibly and know their limits, consumers need to acknowledge that most risks cannot be entirely eliminated. But planning ahead and learning about what’s involved in hosting a reception is the best defense. Purchasing a personal “umbrella” liability policy — providing $1 million or more in additional coverage over the limit of a standard homeowners or renters policy — may be a prudent move for the frequent party host. 
 
Consider the following tips to prevent holiday party accidents and protect yourself:
• Limit your guest list to those you know.
• Host your party at a restaurant or bar that has a liquor license, rather in a home or office.
• Provide filling food for guests and alternative non-alcoholic beverages.
• Schedule entertainment or activities that do not involve alcohol. If the party centers around drinking, guests will likely drink more.
• Arrange transportation or overnight accommodations for those who cannot or should not drive home.
• Stop serving alcohol at least one hour before the party is scheduled to end.
• Do not serve guests who are visibly intoxicated.
• Consider hiring an off-duty police officer to discretely monitor guests’ sobriety or handle any alcohol-related problems as guests leave.
• Stay alert, always remembering your responsibilities as a host.
• Review your insurance policy with your Trusted Choice® agent before the event to ensure that you have the proper liability coverage.

WHAT IF A GUEST CARELESSLY DESTROYS OR DAMAGES A HOME? WHAT IF A GUEST IS INJURED ON OR NEAR MY PROPERTY?

The Trusted Choice® survey found that almost 46% of homeowners thought they weren’t liable in the event that a guest became seriously ill from catered food consumed at the host’s home, and about 22% didn’t think they could be held responsible if a guest was injured on the sidewalk in front of their property. More than one-third of homeowners either didn’t think they could be held responsible or admitted they didn’t know if they destroyed another home with a careless act.   The bottom line is that homeowners could, in fact, be held responsible in any of these scenarios or accidental incidents.

Review Your Policy:  A good homeowners policy is the best way to safeguard any house and its contents. The coverage not only protects owners from losses due to fire, theft and various other disasters, but it also shields them from liability if someone is injured on their premises and covers other risks as well. A comprehensive homeowners policy may even eliminate the need for other smaller, more specific personal insurance policies.

Think Twice About Liability: Carefully consider additions to your property that could be dangerous.  You are liable for anything that happens on your property. Understand that adding a pool, trampoline, recreational vehicle or even a vicious dog to your property will significantly raise your risk of an accident in your insurer’s eyes, so rates will be considerably higher.
 
The survey was conducted for Trusted Choice® via telephone by International Communications Research (ICR), an independent research company in Media, Pa. Interviews of a nationally representative sample of 809 homeowners were conducted in November 2008. More information about ICR can be obtained at http://www.icrsurvey.com.

Another recent study also found that holiday travelers don’t always fully under their insurance needs and rights.  For more travel tips and more information, visit www.TrustedChoice.com.

For more information on the survey results or to request an interview with a national spokesperson or local insurance agent in your area, contact Sue Nester, IIABA Broadcast Media Director, at (703) 706-5448 or susan.nester@iiaba.net. Print journalists should contact Margarita Tapia, IIABA Director of Public Affairs, at (703) 706-5473 or margarita.tapia@iiaba.net.

Trusted Choice® agencies are insurance and financial services firms.  They represent multiple insurance companies, offering individuals and business owners a variety of coverage choices, customized insurance plans to meet specialized needs as well as advocacy support.  These firms adhere to a pledge of performance, committing them to providing excellent customer service.  Go to www.TrustedChoice.com and click on “Find a Trusted Choice® Agent” on the homepage to locate the right agency for your needs.

Founded in 1896, the Big “I” is the nation’s oldest and largest national association of independent insurance agents and brokers, representing a network of more than 300,000 agents, brokers and their employees nationally. Its members are businesses that offer customers a choice of policies from a variety of insurance companies. Independent agents and brokers offer all lines of insurance—property, casualty, life, health, employee benefit plans and retirement products. Web address: www.independentagent.com.
 
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