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The legal risk of serving alcohol to underage Thanksgiving guests

Thanksgiving is a time of celebration with family and friends. In addition to the turkey, pie and sweet potatoes, alcohol often plays a prominent role in Thanksgiving get-togethers. At such festivities, many hosts may allow their underage nieces or nephews to have a drink or two. They mistakenly assume that it's safer for minors to drink at home--under the supervision of trusted adults--rather than at a party or in a bar.

The real problem with this assumption is that it actually puts the host at risk of a lawsuit. A statute in Georgia law addresses this issue--known as "social host liability". Under this law, the host of an event can be held responsible for injuries resulting from serving alcohol to minors (or other already intoxicated guests). An important condition of this law is that in order to be held liable, you must know that the person you're serving "will soon be driving a motor vehicle."

Let's say for example you serve your 17-year-old nephew a few glasses of wine at Thanksgiving. On his drive home, he gets into a car accident with another driver, and she breaks her arm. The driver of the second vehicle can now file a personal injury claim against your nephew (for hitting her) and against you (for serving the alcohol).

However, let's look again at the same scenario, but with one modification: When you served the wine to your nephew, his mother told you that she would be driving the family home after dinner. In this case, there would be little or no evidence that you knew your nephew would be driving soon afterwards. Therefore, the woman who broke her arm could only file a claim against your nephew.

It's important to understand that hosting a social event carries with it certain legal responsibilities. Play it safe this holiday season, and be careful about serving alcohol to minors or inebriated guests.

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