Oklahoma laws on liquor should be remembered at office parties
Q: Can a business be held liable if an employee or guest injures herself or others after consuming alcohol at an office-sponsored function?
A: Probably not. Right now, Oklahoma doesn't have a pure “social host” liability law or case that allows someone to sue a party host for supplying liquor to someone who becomes intoxicated and then causes an accident. But an injured party can possibly sue the club or establishment where the party is held under certain circumstances. Optimally, I'd suggest having the party in a restaurant or club that is licensed to serve alcohol, or hiring a caterer that has a license to serve alcohol.
Q: Does excluding hard liquor and limiting the available alcohol to beer and wine make any difference?
A: No. The law doesn't look at them any differently for this purpose.
Q: Does a cash bar, as opposed to an open bar, help limit potential liabilities?
A: No. Right now, the question comes down to whether there is a commercial vendor and whether there is an “overserving” situation.
Q: Does a company's general liability insurance cover this type of situation?
A: Social host liability may be covered under a business' general liability policy or a party giver's homeowner's policy. However, as of right now, there isn't a cause of action for social host liability against a business or against someone just throwing a party. But under the right circumstances, such as continuing to serve a guest who is obviously intoxicated, there may be such liability in the future. If so, you'll want to make sure you have sufficient policy limits to cover what would likely be a large claim.
Q: If a caterer is hired to provide and manage the bar services, does that shift liquor liability from the company hosting the function to the caterer?
A: It's not really a shift, because so far Oklahoma doesn't allow a direct action against the social host. But it does allow an action against the “commercial vendor” under the right circumstances. A caterer or commercial provider of the alcohol would likely fall under this category.
Q: Is a business obligated to confirm that employees/guests are of legal drinking age before serving?
A: Yes. There is a legal obligation both not to serve minors and prohibit a minor's access to alcohol. Allowing a minor access to alcohol, either directly or by negligence, can result in a criminal fine or even jail time.
PAULA BURKES, BUSINESS WRITER