Understanding the Legal Responsibilities of Hosting an Open House Party in Florida

At Baron, Herskowitz, and Cohen, we understand that hosting an open house party can be a fun and exciting event. Whether it’s a graduation celebration, a birthday bash, or just a spontaneous get-together, these social events can create wonderful memories. However, in Florida, open house parties come with their own set of legal responsibilities and potential liabilities that every host should be aware of.

What is an Open House Party?
An “Open House Party” is specifically defined by Florida law as “a social gathering at a home, apartment, condominium or other dwelling unit.”

Stated simply, a person who has control of the residence (whether an owner or a renter), may not allow an open house party to take place at the residence if alcohol or drugs are possessed or consumed at the residence by any minor with the knowledge of the person, and the person fails to take reasonable steps to prevent the possession or consumption of the alcohol or drugs by the minor.

Florida’s Open House Party Law (Florida Statutes Section 856.015) holds hosts accountable for illegal activities that occur on their property during these events. To secure a conviction, the prosecution must prove the following five factual elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • Control Over Residence: The accused must have had control over the residence where the party took place.
  • Presence of Minors: Minors (individuals under 21 years of age) must have been present at the party.
  • Alcohol or Drugs Consumption: Minors consumed alcohol or drugs during the party.
  • Knowledge of Consumption: The accused knew, or should have known, that minors were consuming alcohol or drugs.
  • Failure to Take Action: The accused failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the consumption of alcohol or drugs by minors.

Open House Party violations can be charged as a second-degree or first-degree misdemeanor. A first-time offense with no resulting injuries is classified as a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail, six months of probation, and/or a $500 fine. A second offense or any offense involving injury, even if it’s the first, is treated as a first-degree misdemeanor, with penalties including up to one year in jail or probation, and/or a $1,000 fine.

Potential Civil Liability
Beyond criminal charges, hosts may also face civil liability if a guest is injured or causes injury to others after consuming alcohol or drugs at the party. For instance, if a minor leaves a party intoxicated and causes a car accident, the host could be held liable for the damages.

Suggestions to Protect Yourself
When hosting an event, ensuring the safety and well-being of all attendees is paramount. Adopting certain measures can significantly reduce the risk of any issues arising, particularly those related to underage drinking and drug use. Remember, deliberate ignorance is not a defense.

  • Limit Attendance: Invite only known and trusted individuals to your event. Avoid open invitations that could attract uninvited guests.
  • Monitor Entry: Keep track of who enters and leaves the party. Consider using a guest list and having someone monitor the entrance.
  • Lock Areas with Alcohol: Secure areas where alcohol is stored to prevent access by minors. Consider using locks or keeping these areas off-limits.
  • Supervise the Event: Actively supervise the party, ensuring that minors are not consuming alcohol or drugs. Enlist the help of other responsible adults if necessary.
  • Clear Rules: Communicate clear rules about alcohol and drug use at the start of the event. Make it known that underage drinking and drug use will not be tolerated.
  • Provide Alternatives: Offer a variety of non-alcoholic beverages and engaging activities to discourage underage drinking.
  • Hire Security: For larger gatherings, consider hiring professional security to help monitor the event and handle any issues that arise.
  • Stay Sober: As the host, stay sober so you can make sound decisions and manage any problems effectively.
  • End the Party at a Reasonable Time: Set a clear end time for the party to prevent it from continuing into the late hours when supervision may lapse.
  • Check for Impairment: Ensure that guests leaving the party are not impaired. Arrange for alternative transportation for those who have been drinking.

Getting Help If Your Child Was at the Party
If your child attended an open house party and suffered an injury, it’s crucial to seek legal help. You may be able to pursue a claim against the host for negligence. Personal injury lawyers can help assess the situation, determine liability, and guide you through the process of seeking compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and other damages. If you need legal advice or assistance, contact Baron, Herskowitz, and Cohen for expert guidance and representation.

Leave a Reply