If you’re having friends and family over to your home for the holidays, you may worry about your responsibilities and potential liabilities. Winter weather conditions can cause slip-and-fall injuries, auto collisions, and other injuries on your premises. Serving alcohol to guests opens up another area of potential liability. Protect yourself this season by knowing your responsibilities.
Premises Liability Claims Against New Jersey Hosts
New Jersey premises liability laws require homeowners to maintain their property in a safe manner for people who have the right to be there (including not only guests but also authorized visitors like delivery persons). Property owners must exercise “reasonable care” to maintain their property, which in snowy, icy weather can include shoveling snow, applying salt or chemical deicers, or laying down non-slip devices like mats. State law does not require homeowners to shovel the public sidewalks adjacent to their property, although this may be required by local town or municipal laws.
If a hazard does exist, a homeowner must provide adequate warning to those entering the property of the hazard’s location and nature (e.g., a sign that says “caution: slippery floor”). You may be liable for injuries to your guests caused by negligent property maintenance, including failing to remove snow or ice. Before hosting guests at your home, it’s a good idea to inspect your property thoroughly and take appropriate measures to make it as safe as possible. Pick up debris, fix any hazards, salt, shovel, or otherwise de-ice walkways, and mark any conditions you are unable to remedy.
New Jersey Dram Shop/Alcoholic Beverage Claims
If you’re planning to serve alcohol, you must be aware of your responsibilities and potential liabilities. The New Jersey Licensed Alcoholic Beverage Server Fair Liability Act (also known as the “dram shop” statute) allows a person injured in an alcohol-related auto accident to file a lawsuit against someone who served or sold alcohol to an intoxicated driver. Unlike many other states, New Jersey’s dram shop law allows injured parties to file claims against private social hosts as well as businesses like bars and restaurants.
The law provides that if an intoxicated person causes a motor vehicle accident that harms another person, the injured person may seek damages from a social host if
- the social host provided alcohol to the person who caused the accident (under the statute’s definition of “provided”), AND
- the person was visibly intoxicated in the presence of the host, or the beverages were provided "under circumstances manifesting reckless disregard of the consequences" to another, AND
- the circumstances created an "unreasonable risk" of harm to life or property.
The applicable definition of "provided" includes allowing guests to serve themselves alcohol at a party where you are the host; the law also considers a host to have “provided” alcohol that other guests bring to a party.
If you are serving alcohol at a social event in your home this holiday season, take steps to reduce your social host liability and help your guests stay safe. Make sure you serve food in addition to alcohol. Pay attention to your guests, watch for signs of intoxication, and ensure that guests who seem to be under the influence don’t get behind the wheel. Hiring professional bartenders to serve and manage your guests is another good option.
Consult an Experienced New Jersey Premises Liability Attorney
A plaintiff can recover a variety of different kinds of compensatory damages from a social host under New Jersey dram shop and premises liability statutes. An injured party may also be able to recover punitive damages in dram shop cases. In some cases, pursuing an insurance claim may be appropriate instead of (or in addition to) filing a lawsuit. A person has two years from the date of their injury to file a lawsuit against a social host.
If you are facing liability for an occurrence or injury on your property, or if you have been injured on someone else’s property, call the attorneys at the Mark Law Firm. Our experienced personal injury lawyers will evaluate the facts and determine the course of action that’s most appropriate to your situation. Your attorney will be your advocate through the entire claim and litigation process. To schedule an appointment at the Basking Ridge, Newark, or Jersey City, New Jersey, law offices of the Mark Law Firm, contact us today.
 N.J. Rev. Stat. §2A:22A-1 et seq.