Every Halloween, I'm amazed at the wild characters that turn up at my door in search of bites for frights. I'm not talking about the 'tweeners in their bloody zombie garb or the "Twilight" neck-biters moussed to kill. I'm talking about their drunken parents.
Let's face it, the adult louts among us have co-opted the last sacred kid's holiday and turned it into a rube's tailgate party without the big screen and beer nuts. And they're doing so without considering the potential consequences to their auto insurance, their homeowners insurance and worst-case scenario, their health insurance.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 58 percent of all traffic fatalities on Halloween 2008 involved a driver or motorcycle rider with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or higher.
For those needing further persuasion against mixing alcohol-impaired drivers with visually-impaired costumed children wandering the streets with a sugar buzz, allow me to formally introduce you to social host liability.
Wazzat? Well, it's a legal term for the civil and criminal responsibility of a person who serves liquor to a guest. Yes, even guests dressed as Pandorans, Pippi Longstocking and Sarah Palin.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, enforcement of social host liability varies widely by state; some states don't recognize it at all, others limit liability to injuries that occur on your property, and some hold you responsible if a guest you (over)serve injures or kills another person. All states, of course, prohibit serving alcohol to minors.
"Depending on the jurisdiction, violations of social host laws can lead to civil or criminal fines, imprisonment and monetary damages awards," says Loretta Worters, vice president of the III.
What does all of this buzzkill have to do with your homeowners insurance?
"Your insurance may not be enough to cover a judgment against you as a social host," says Worters. "If you are also charged criminally, then it is possible that your policy will not cover the civil judgment."
How's that for scary?
To avoid a real nightmare this Halloween, the III suggests the following:
- Hire a professional bartender. They know when and how to respectfully decline a refill.
- Always serve food. It helps offset the alcohol.
- Serve nonalcoholic beverages as well.
- Stop serving alcohol one hour before the party ends, to give your guests time to sober up.
- Speak with your guests before they leave and call (and even pay for) a cab if they appear unable to drive home safely.
- Remind your guests to buckle up before heading home.
My advice? For the sake of your health, your kids, your neighbors and your homeowners insurance, save the alcohol for game time.
Follow me on Twitter!
Stay current on financial news the easy way with Bankrate newsletters!