Don’t Run Afoul of the Law This Holiday Weekend

Posted July 2, 2009 in Criminal Law by

For many people, a barbeque and fireworks are the only way to celebrate the Fourth of July. It seems like such good, harmless, all-American fun. You get to soak up the warm weather, drink some beer with friends and watch kids fool around with bottle rockets. As holidays go, it has none of the pressures of Christmas or Thanksgiving or Valentine’s Day. After all, on July 4 no one expects you to serve an elaborate meal or give the perfect gift.

But there are some unappreciated risks that come with the Fourth of July, and if you inadvertently encounter them, they could ruin your holiday celebration even faster than a summer thunderstorm.

I’m referring, of course, to alcohol and fireworks.

Your Responsibilities as a Party Host

If you host a party where alcohol is served, you could face criminal charges and civil lawsuits if one of your guests drinks too much and gets in an accident. The consequences can be even more severe if the person who is overserved is under the legal drinking age.

Laws vary widely by state, with some states imposing no liability on party hosts. Other states limit responsibility of party hosts to injuries that occur onsite at your party. But in some states party hosts are liability for injuries from traffic accidents involving the person who drank alcohol at your party.

Most states impose liability on party hosts where alcohol was served to a minor, the host was reckless in serving alcohol or the host should have recognized the extent of the guest’s intoxication and not served him or her more alcohol. A judge or jury would be responsible for deciding whether a host was "reckless" in serving alcohol.

So if you’re hosting a party this Fourth of July weekend, there are many things you can do to lessen the possibility you’ll be held responsible for your guest’s actions after drinking too much:

  • Make sure no minors are served
  • Discourage guests from drinking excessively, and stop serving anyone who appears visibly intoxicated
  • Encourage the use of designated drivers. Rather than letting someone wander out the door in an obviously intoxicated state, enlist another guest headed in their direction to drive them home or call a taxi
  • In extreme circumstances, take your guest’s car keys and insist they sleep over

Fireworks Safety

Before you consider buying fireworks, know whether fireworks are legal in your state or community, and heed the local laws. Just because fireworks are being sold doesn’t necessarily mean they’re legal.

I live in Illinois, and neighboring Indiana has much more permissive fireworks laws. Not surprisingly, you see signs pointing to fireworks stores as soon as you cross into Indiana. Also not surprisingly, each year at this time, you read articles about Illinois cops ticketing people who have bought fireworks in Indiana and then driven back into Illinois.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the majority of people who are injured by consumer fireworks are hurt because the product is used in an unsafe manner, not because the product malfunctioned. In 2007, the CPSC says that about 9,800 people were treated for fireworks-related injuries.

If you are using fireworks at home, the CPSC recommends:

  • Don’t let kids play with fireworks
  • Follow the firework’s directions and pay attention to the warnings
  • Make sure people keep a safe distance from the fireworks that are being set off
  • Do not relight fireworks that failed to detonate
  • Launch fireworks from a smooth surface such as asphalt or concrete. Avoid setting off fireworks near anything flammable, such as dry leaves or homes
  • Keep a hose or bucket of water nearby in case of a fire

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