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Christmas parties have liabilities
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Too much eggnog and driving doesn’t mix, and it’s not just the driver who can wind up in trouble.

For folks holding Christmas parties this month, yuletide merriment isn’t without

In a season when fatal car crashes caused by drunken driving increase, holiday hosts need to be aware they can be held liable for another person’s intoxicated actions, one local attorney said.

The "dram shop act," a section of Georgia law which usually applies to bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, can also apply to individuals, said Mark Alexander, an attorney with the Gainesville law firm of Stewart, Melvin and Frost.

Under the law, people hurt in accidents caused by drunken drivers can sue the person who provided the drunken driver with alcohol.

"The topic is one that’s a little more cautionary when you look to the holiday season," Alexander said. "If you’re going to have social guests and provide them with alcohol, you can’t be ignorant of what they’re doing."

Alexander said a host can be found liable for injuries suffered by a third party in an accident if he provided the drunken driver with alcohol, knew the person was "in a state of noticeable intoxication," and that they would soon be driving.

The best practice is to be aware of those who have had too much too drink and look out for them, either by finding a designated driver or calling them a taxi, Alexander said.

"If you see someone is drunk at a party, don’t make fun of them — help them get home safe," he said.

"I certainly don’t want to scare anyone away from having holiday parties and providing alcohol, if that’s what they desire to do," Alexander said. "Just be careful, and realize there’s some potential liability out there."

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Christmas holiday season is among the deadliest times of the year on the roads.

Of the nearly 12,000 people killed in drunken driving accidents nationally in 2008, almost 1,500 died between Thanksgiving and New Years Day, according to MADD.

"During the holidays, definitely, drunk driving increases," said MADD spokeswoman Misty Moyse. "We encourage people to designate a sober driver before drinking begins."

Moyse said people holding parties should offer a wide selection of nonalcoholic beverages and "shut down the bar early before the party ends to allow people some time before they leave."

Moyse also suggests party hosts "offer all kinds of different activities for people to do besides drinking."

"We want people to have fun and have a safe holiday season and show love to their friends and family by designating a sober driver," Moyse said.