Police warnings about holiday celebrations raise questions about Virginia’s liability laws

Posted at 11:30 PM, Dec 28, 2012
and last updated 2012-12-28 23:31:35-05

RICHMOND, Va (WTVR)- If you hold a house party and a friend comes over and leaves intoxicated, are you responsible for what happens to him after he leaves your house?

Legal experts say Virginia's laws may seem surprising.

It's the time of year where people like to party to ring in the New Year and perhaps toss back a drink or two with friends and family.

It's also prime season for DUI checkpoints because accidents can tragically change a family's life forever.  So police in Central Virginia are warning everyone out there that accountability starts at home.

“It's a scare tactic,” said Donte Henderson of Chesterfield. “They're trying to get people to think about drinking and driving. It's that season where some good folks are going to leave parties with the intent of just going home. But things will happen. I think police are taking the right steps."

But if it’s your party, just how responsible are you for an intoxicated friend or family member’s actions?

"’Dram shop’ is a law that holds a person that sold someone alcohol liable in a bar or commercial setting,” says CBS-6 legal expert Todd Stone.  “A ‘social host liability’ is when you host a party and you're serving someone alcohol. In Virginia, there isn't a civil or criminal liability perspective unless it deals with alcohol consumption and a minor."

"I feel if you don't tell them then you are responsible, but if you say ‘hey, don't go and give me your keys,’ and they insist on leaving then that's their problem,” said Chris Anderson of Chesterfield.  “You can only do but so much."

Police say just play it safe by telling a family member or friend to stay at your place or call them a cab.   While legal expert Stone says you may not be legally liable, remember, if something happens your conscience may get to you.