Every bride and groom wants to throw a festive wedding reception. But if one of the happy guests drinks too much, hops in a car, and swerves into traffic, are the newlyweds liable for damages caused by the accident?
Responsibility and liability
“As any lawyer or insurance professional knows, liability is determined on a case-by-case and state-by-state basis,” says Adriana Carrasco of Insureon, a liability insurance broker. “But venues, restaurants, and bars can be named in lawsuits if a guest is overserved and causes an injury or accident.”
Allen McKenzie, a Tacoma, Washington attorney who specializes in DUI and DWI cases, explains that the responsibility comes with recognizing that a guest has reached his limit. “Most states have dram shop laws that hold taverns, bartenders, and even social hosts liable for damages if they serve intoxicated guests who then leave the premises and harm themselves or others.”
Do weddings really count?
Dram shop laws differ from one state to the next but generally encompass licensed establishments that serve “obviously” or “apparently” intoxicated patrons. “The wedding venue could potentially be held liable if it had a liquor license,” says McKenzie, “but the bride and groom would be tougher to go after.”
Weddings are unique events, however, in that so many people can be involved with planning and execution. The event managers—a combination of people ranging from wedding planners and venues to beverage suppliers and bartenders—must monitor every aspect of the wedding to ensure that a safe and secure environment is present before, during, and after the event.
“Event managers can be held potentially responsible for an accident or DUI during or immediately after a wedding,” says Joyce Scardina Becker, designer-in-chief at Events of Distinction, a luxury wedding planning and event management company in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe.
“Those who issue the invitation to the wedding—bride and groom, parents, or whoever’s name is printed on the wedding invitation—may be responsible for contributing to the negligence that caused the incident,” Becker continues, “and those who planned, coordinated, and executed the wedding may also be potentially accused of gross negligence if it can be shown that they willfully ignored standard, customary safety procedures.”
Erring on the caution side
Given the potential liability issues, experts advise the reception hosts to enter contracts carefully. “Depending on how contracts are written and who indemnifies whom between the venue supplying the bartender and the bride and groom,” says TJ Grimaldi a personal injury and criminal defense attorney with McIntyre Thanasides in Tampa, “there is a chance the bride and groom could in fact be liable as well.”