ARE YOU LEGALLY LIABLE FOR SERVING ALCOHOL TO GUESTS?
What is your legal liability when you serve alcoholic beverages to your guests?
Illinois law provides that social hosts have no legal liability to persons to whom they serve alcohol, whether they are adults or minors. Nor do social hosts have any legal liability to persons injured by an intoxicated guest. This freedom from liability exists even if it can be proved that the host had some reason to believe that his or her guest was intoxicated or that an intoxicated guest might drive. Illinois courts have joined in the widely held theory that it is not blameworthy conduct to supply intoxicating liquor to an ordinary able-bodied adult. Rather, it is the consumption of alcohol, not the furnishing of the alcohol, that is the cause of any subsequent occurrence.
“Social hosts” include both private individuals and companies that hold parties or social events. If a company holds a holiday party for its employees or serves alcohol at a business meeting, it is not responsible to the employees or to third parties for any injuries that may result due to intoxication. Likewise, where friends or family gather in private homes, the hosts are not responsible for the drinking of other adults.
Anyone under 21 years of age commits a criminal offense if he or she attempts to purchase, purchases, consumes, possesses, or transports any alcohol, liquor, or malt or brewed beverage, and an adult who furnishes any assistance is also criminally liable. A person commits a crime by serving any alcohol to a minor. It is not necessary that the minor have been served an amount sufficient to intoxicate him or her. Any person who serves minors mildly alcoholic beverages marketed as nonalcoholic is criminally liable if the beverage contains more than 0.5% alcohol.
Liquor license holders and their employees, along with owners or lessors, such as tavern owners, are not treated the same as social hosts. Licensees and their employees must refrain from selling liquor to any visibly intoxicated individual. Where a liquor license holder is found responsible for serving an intoxicated customer, he or she can be held liable by anyone injured by the intoxicated customer’s negligence. Once the determination has been made that the liquor license holder knowingly served a patron who was intoxicated, the liquor license holder will be held liable regardless of actual fault.
An adult who pays for a hotel or motel room or any other facility, with the knowledge that the room or facility is to be used by persons under 21 for the unlawful consumption of alcoholic beverages, can be held liable as if he or she were a liquor license holder. However, Illinois does limit the amount of damages that the injured party may recover for personal injury in such an action. Under no circumstances is the liquor license holder or person who rents the hotel/motel room or facility liable to the intoxicated person.
BANK ACCOUNTS ARE A-CHANGING
In the last year, new Federal Reserve Board rules have reined in the ability of banks and other financial institutions to impose charges and fees for some of their services. Issuers of credit cards generally cannot increase the interest rate on a card for one year after the account is opened. Consumers will no longer be charged a fee when a transaction causes an account to exceed its credit limit, unless the consumer has agreed in advance. For “subprime” cards, held by those with a limited or bad credit history, the total initial fees cannot exceed 25% of the card’s initial credit limit, with the exception of fees for late payments, for exceeding the credit limit, or for returned payments due to insufficient funds.
With these and other tightened regulations, it is predictable that financial institutions will gravitate toward other means of enhancing revenues through new or increased fees, and with new or more demanding requirements placed on consumers. In such a climate, consumers are well advised to brush up on some strategies for minimizing the financial hits from the institutions:
* If your bank decides to add or raise a minimum balance requirement for your account, consider whether you would do just as well with a “no frills” account that would have no such requirement, and likely no maintenance fee. The tradeoff may be a monthly limit on the number of checks that you can write or on the number of ATM or debit-card transactions.
* With today’s low interest rates, it might be smarter to use a free account that pays no or very little interest, instead of an account that pays a slightly higher interest rate but also comes with a monthly fee. The monthly fee could well be greater than the meager return on the interest-bearing account.
* It is not exactly riveting reading material for most people, but make yourself promptly check your accounts online or check your paper account statements for errors, or for fees or account changes you may not have been expecting. In the same vein, monitoring the activity on your debit or ATM card will help you promptly report a problem if the card is lost or stolen, thereby limiting your liability.
* Many banks offer a free “alert service,” meaning that the bank will send you an e-mail or text message notifying you when there has been a significant transaction on your account or if your balance drops below a certain threshold. Such a “heads up” could allow you to shift funds among your accounts to avoid overdrawing one of them.
* If overdrawing an account is a recurring event, consider changing from overdraft coverage to cheaper alternatives, such as linking a savings account to a checking account, arranging for an overdraft line of credit, or, for a short-term shortage of cash, applying for a small loan.
* ATM fees may not be crippling, but they can add up. Try to stick mainly with your own institution’s ATMs, where there generally is no charge. If your bank allows getting some cash back on a debit-card transaction at no charge, that is an alternative to an ATM for getting small amounts of cash.
© 2011 Joseph M. Lucas & Associates, L.L.C.