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Newsletter > September 1997 > "COMPREHENSIVE PARTY PLANNING"
COMPREHENSIVE PARTY PLANNING
Matthew W. FeHerhoff
With the beginning of a new school year, students’ thoughts not only turn to classes and books but also to social events and parties, with old and new friends. Often these social events involve alcohol. Therefore, with the advent of each new school year, fraternity members should be re-educated on the responsible and legal use of alcohol at parties. The well-publicized, tragic death of a Sigma Alpha Epsilon pledge at LSU last month all too dramatically underscores this fact.
While alcohol certainly is not a necessity for any party, many chapter parties do involve alcohol. (In contrast, Sigma Nu and Phi Delta Theta Fraternities have resolved to discontinue the consumption of alcohol in chapter houses effective the 1st of July, 2000. Please sec March 1997, Fraternal Law #60.) Because of the potential for harm historically associated with the provision of alcohol at fraternity parties, certain steps should be taken to lessen the risk of injury or tragedy and the potential for liability if injuries do occur.
The fact is, if an individual is not 21 they may not be provided alcohol and they should not be allowed to drink at fraternity events. Taking this obligation seriously is the single best protection against injury and liability.
Dram Shop Liability
Many states use statutes or common law to impose liability on the owner of or a bartender in a restaurant or bar for serving alcohol to an already intoxicated patron who then injures himself or another party. In some states, the same type of liability applies to a social host provider of alcohol, including a fraternity. This exposes a fraternity to potential legal responsibility from a fraternity member, a guest, or even an unknown third party who crashes a fraternity event, who becomes intoxicated and then is involved in an accident in which someone is killed or injured. Further, individual members of the fraternity who provided the alcohol could find themselves personally liable, or, in some circumstance even subject to criminal charges.
There Are No Tricks
Fraternity members should be aware of the fact that short of banning alcohol, there is little they can do to fully insulate themselves from liability in such circumstances. A “BYOB” party in many instances docs not immunize a fraternity from such liability. If minors arc allowed to bring alcohol or consume someone else’s alcohol or if members or guests arc permitted to drink to excess, there can be liability even though the guest, and not the fraternity, has purchased and brought his or her own liquor. Further, posting signs regarding liquor consumption may help as educational tools but will likely not relieve a fraternity and its members from liability if the warnings on the signs are ignored. Releases signed by guests indicating that the provider of alcohol or the sponsor of a party arc not responsible for injuries may not be enforced by courts and, further, can in no way release the fraternity from liability to a third party who has not signed the release and is injured by such a guest.
Most, if not all fraternities, prohibit alcohol at rush events. Considering the likelihood that most rushees are underage, that is as it should be. From a risk management standpoint, dry rush should be the only option.
Risk Management and Party Planning
If alcoholic beverages will be available at a party, the following represents a brief overview of steps that can be taken to help reduce the possibility of injury and exposure to liability. These provisions should be reviewed with all fraternity members.
- Obtain Appropriate Permits
Check with the local police departments to be sure that you comply with all permit requirements for the provision of alcoholic beverages.
- Identification Check
No one under the age of 21 should be served alcohol or permitted to consume it. Someone should be assigned to check ID’s. A professional bartender can be hired to do this. He or she would be in a position to check ID’s without the social pressures and awkward circumstances of a “brother” not permitting a younger “brother” to be provided with alcohol. The bartender can also manage the bar and monitor the consumption of alcohol. A professional bartender is likely to have the experience to cut off someone who has over-indulged without causing a scene.
- No Open Or Block Parties
As in any party situation, there must be a mechanism to control the number of guests to the party. Limit parties to a select list of guests. Know your guests and have a guest list handy. Having an open party conveys a free-for-all attitude and results in attendance by anyone and everyone, likely including minors. Overcrowding creates additional problems with which even the best preplanning may be unable to cope.
- Do Not Advertise Alcohol
In any advertisements or posters announcing your event or party, do not emphasize alcohol. Alcohol should never be a theme of an event and should not be the first thing a guest sees when arriving at a party. Should there be an injury that results in a lawsuit, an invitation or poster advertising a ‘drink and drown’ would likely be Exhibit A for the plaintiff and will stand in sharp contrast to any explanations made by a fraternity that it took sufficient steps to guard against such an injury.
- Limit The Hours Of Dispensing Alcohol
Cut off the serving of alcohol at a reasonable predesignated hour. This will provide an excuse to clear out the crowd and avoid the problems associated with people who crash the party after local bars have closed. Post those times in a visible place so as to not surprise guests and create resentment when they attempt to get one last drink and are denied.
- Never Serve An Intoxicated Guest
Serious liability can result from serving alcohol to an intoxicated guest. If someone is noticeably intoxicated, find a designated driver or make alternative arrangements for him or her to get home safely.
- Provisions For Nonalcoholic Beverages and Food
A sufficient quantity and variety of nonalcoholic beverages should be readily available to all fraternity members and guests. These drinks should be as easily accessible as the alcohol.
Food or snacks in sufficient quantity should be provided throughout the party location. This should not be limited to chips and pretzels which are often used by bars to cause thirst, and therefore more drinking. While the consumption of food does not induce sobriety, having it available may limit the amount of alcohol consumed and may take some of the attention away from alcohol.
- Designated Driver/Shuttle Service
One or more members should be designated as drivers who will not consume alcohol during a social event and who will be available to drive guests home. Drivers should make sure that their insurance covers them in this situation. If an event is off campus, the fraternity may consider hiring a shuttle service for members and guests.
These are just guidelines which are provided as points that should be considered if the fraternity decides to have a party in which alcohol is served. Most national organizations provide detailed information to assist with party planning. Such guidelines should be followed closely. This article is intended to supplement that information.
Be prudent in planning for the provision of alcoholic beverages at your next event, plan in advance to obey the law and use common sense. A safe party is certainly a more enjoyable party.