BUSINESS LAW 101 / Alcohol and Christmas Parties

By Albert L. Kelley, Esq.

in this season of Christmas parties followed by New Year’s parties, many people will be imbibing in a little “toddy for the body” as Bing Crosby used to say. It is common for alcohol be served at these events, so it is important to know what the rules are regarding serving alcohol as well as drinking alcohol.

Many people have a tradition of hosting an open house party during the Christmas season. There is nothing wrong with this and in fact it can strengthen neighborhood ties. However, if alcohol is going to be served during this open house, it is on the person who has control of the house to ensure that no alcohol is served to any minor and that no alcohol is consumed by any minor. The homeowner or person in control of the house must take reasonable steps to prevent the consumption of alcohol by any minor in attendance. The violation of this law is a second-degree misdemeanor, however if it is a second offense or if a violation leads to serious injury or death of the minor, the charge increases to a first-degree misdemeanor. However, a violation can also lead to more serious charges. In one case where parents held an open house where minors were allowed to drink, the parents were later charged with involuntary manslaughter when two of the minors were killed in a car accident after drinking alcohol at the party. This law is not specific to just alcohol, it also includes the possession and consumption of drugs. So, for example, if the homeowner has a medical marijuana card and minors attending the party are able to access the homeowners stash, the same rules would apply. 

This statute (856.015) only addresses house parties, not business events. That is presumably because business parties are usually geared more towards adults. The statutes generally remove liability for serving an adult alcohol, although there have been cases trying to tie liability to an employer when the event is an office related event.

There can also be liability for the person consuming alcohol.  First of course are the DUI laws.  In Florida, anyone in control of an automobile who is “under the influence of alcoholic beverages or controlled substances, when affected to the extent that the person’s normal faculties are impaired or to the extent that the person is deprived of full possession of normal faculties” is in violation of the law.  The first question is what is meant by control?  You do not have to be driving to be in control.  The Courts have allowed DUI charges where a car is parked, but the driver has the keys in the ignition, or so close to them that they could easily put them in the ignition and drive off.  The second question is what is meant by “under the influence” or “impaired”?  There is no definition in the statute.  Black’s Law Dictionary defines “under the influence as “not only all well-known and easily recognized conditions and degrees of intoxication, but any abnormal mental or physical condition which is the result of indulging in any degree in intoxicating liquors, and which tends to deprive one of that clearness of intellect and control of himself which he would otherwise possess. Any condition where intoxicating liquor has so far affected the nervous system, brain or muscles of the driver so as to impair, to an appreciable degree, his ability to operate his automobile in the manner that an ordinary, prudent and cautious man, in full possession of his faculties, using reasonable care, would operate or drive under like conditions.” This means that for each person in each circumstance, the answer may be different. There is a presumption that if the driver’s blood alcohol level is 0.08%, they are impaired. But that is a presumption.  The blood alcohol can be lower than that and the driver still be impaired.  It really becomes a judgment call by the police officer based on their observations. 

Aside from the DUI laws, Florida Statute 856.011 states that any person who becomes so intoxicated that they endanger the safety of another person or property, commits a second-degree misdemeanor.   The law also applies when a person drinks any alcoholic beverage in a public place or in or upon any public conveyance and then causes a public disturbance.  What constitutes a public disturbance is primarily an issue of fact that the judge must decide. Generally, if the persons actions draw a crowd towards them, it is sufficient. 

The lesson these statutes and the caselaw gives us is simple: Don’t allow minors to consume alcohol.  If an adult is going to drink, drink responsibly.  And if you are going to drink, don’t drive. 

Al Kelley has worked as an attorney in Monroe County for the last 31 years. He is the author of five law books available through Absolutely Amazing E-Books and the host of “Basics Of The Law”, a legal YouTube channel. He serves as the Vice Chair of the 16th Judicial Circuit Professionalism Panel.  He also previously taught business law, personnel law, and labor law at St. Leo University. This article is being offered as a public service and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. If you have any questions about legal issues, you should confer with a licensed Florida attorney.

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