Liquor Liability: How to Reduce Your Risk

By Christopher Bolger Senior Risk Manager, Venture Insurance Programs | January 11, 2015

Serving liquor is risky business. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 88,000 alcohol-related deaths each year from 2006 to 2010, and MADD reports 28 people die each day as a result of drunk driving accidents. Like all businesses that serve alcohol, the hospitality industry must be concerned about these trends and their liquor liability exposure.

So, what does a hotel do in the face of such alarming statistics? As individuals, we weigh the risks and benefits of alcohol use, and businesses must do the same for alcohol-related amenities. Guests are unlikely to do without the hotel bar, the in-room mini bar or open bars at wedding receptions. But with training for your staff, clear protocols and a few key business decisions, you can reduce the potential for alcohol-related incidents and claims, in turn protecting guests, staff and your business.

How Hotels Are Liable for Alcohol Consumption

Hotel liquor liability claims stem from the kind of incidents and accidents one would expect after a night of indulging. After one too many, an intoxicated person falls from their chair at the bar, or a wedding reveler trips on the dance floor. Perhaps a guest drinks at the hotel bar, picks up his car from the valet, drives under the influence, gets in a car accident and injures or kills himself or other people. As an insurance professional, I have even seen workers’ compensation claims due to hotel employees’ drinking at a staff holiday party.

In instances such as these, hotels are held responsible even if they were not at fault. A guest need only claim they saw a wet spot on the floor, or that the bartender knowingly over-served them. Liability can be computed on the hotel, which is held responsible for the injured party’s medical bills, lost time from work and other associated costs. In the case of older adults, medical costs can be quite high due to complications.

It may seem unfair that hotels are held responsible in cases such as these, but it is the law. “Dram shop” is a term for laws which govern the liability of businesses that serve alcohol to intoxicated or underage people who harm themselves or others. Depending on the state in which it is located, a hotel may be held responsible for serving liquor to minors, visibly intoxicated adults and those who later drive drunk, as well as any third parties injured through alcohol-induced accidents. Keeping current with the state statutory dram shop requirements and exposures is crucial, allowing hotel owners to incorporate them into internal policies and procedures.

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Businesses must evolve to stay competitive and this is also true of employment positions within those organizations. In the hotel industry, for example, the role that HR professionals perform continues to broaden and expand. Today, they are generally responsible for five key areas - government compliance; payroll and benefits; employee acquisition and retention; training and development; and organizational structure and culture. In this enlarged capacity, HR professionals are no longer seen as part of an administrative cost center, but rather as a member of the leadership team that creates strategic value within their organization. HR professionals help to define company policies and plans; enact and enforce systems of accountability; and utilize definable metrics to measure and justify outcomes. Of course, there are always new issues for HR professionals to address. Though seemingly safe for the moment, will the Affordable Care Act ultimately be repealed and replaced and, if so, what will the ramifications be? There are issues pertaining to Millennials in the workforce and women in leadership roles, as well as determining the appropriate use of social media within the organization. There are new onboarding processes and e-learning training platforms to evaluate, in addition to keeping abreast of political issues like the minimum wage hike movement, or the re-evaluation of overtime rules. Finally, there are genuine immigration and deportation issues that affect HR professionals, especially if they are located in Dreamer Cities, or employ a workforce that could be adversely impacted by federal government policies. The March Hotel Business Review will take a look at some of the issues, strategies and techniques that HR professionals are employing to create and sustain value in their organization.