For many individuals, the holiday season is spent gathering with friends and family. These gatherings often involve the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Although there is nothing wrong with enjoying a drink, it is important to be aware that hosting a social gathering can have legal implications due to the concept of “social host liability”.
One fact situation that can potentially trigger social host liability occurs when the guest of a party drives away “drunk”, subsequently causing a motor vehicle accident.
The seminal case on social host liability in Canada is the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Childs v. Desormeaux,  1 S.C.R. 643.
In Childs v. Desormeaux, Mr. Desormeaux was a guest at a party hosted by Mr. Courrier. Mr. Desormeaux consumed alcoholic beverages at said party and was intoxicated. Unfortunately, Mr. Desormeaux drove away drunk, causing a motor vehicle accident that injured another individual.
Among the issues before the Court in Childs v. Desormeaux was whether or not the social host of a party owes a duty of care to persons that might be injured by the conduct of inebriated guests.
In Childs v. Desormeaux, the Supreme Court held that, as a general rule, a social host does not owe a duty of care to persons injured by a party guest who has consumed alcohol. However, the Court left the door open to social host liability arising with the right set of facts, particularly when the conduct of a social host implicates him or her in the creation or exacerbation of risk. The Court stated:
1 A person hosts a party. Guests drink alcohol. An inebriated guest drives away and causes an accident in which another person is injured. Is the host liable to the person injured? I conclude that as a general rule, a social host does not owe a duty of care to a person injured by a guest who has consumed alcohol and that the courts below correctly dismissed the appellants’ action.[…]
47 I conclude that hosting a party at which alcohol is served does not, without more, establish the degree of proximity required to give rise to a duty of care on the hosts to third-party highway users who may be injured by an intoxicated guest […] A social host at a party where alcohol is served is not under a duty of care to members of the public who may be injured by a guest’s actions, unless the host’s conduct implicates him or her in the creation or exacerbation of the risk […]
Case law since Childs v. Desormeaux also suggests that a social host can potentially owe a duty of care to others. See, for example, the case of Wardak v. Froom, 2017 ONSC 1166 [“Wardak”].
In Wardak, the Defendants hosted a birthday party for their 19 year old son. The Plaintiff was an 18 year old guest of the party and a neighbour of the Defendants who consumed alcohol at the part, left on foot, and later drove his car into a fire hydrant, suffering quadriplegia. The Plaintiff ultimately sued the party hosts, arguing that social host liability should apply. The Defendants, citing Childs v. Desormeaux, brought a summary judgment motion to dismiss the action. In dismissing the Defendants’ summary judgment motion, the Court cited factors such as the Defendants knowing that some party guests were underage and that the Defendants did not do anything to stop the Plaintiff from drinking after they saw him appearing intoxicated.
If you are hosting a gathering this holiday season, here are some helpful tips to remember that can help avoid potential liability:
- If you are serving alcohol, consider placing a limit on the amount of alcohol being served and do not serve any alcohol to guests that appear intoxicated.
- Encourage guests to have safe transportation home – designated drivers at the gathering, taxicabs, public transportation, and arranging drives from sober individuals not attending the gathering are all good options to consider.
- If the gathering is hosted at your residence, consider offering guests the option of staying the night.
- Keep an eye on the behaviour of your guests. If a guest appears to be intoxicated, do not let him or her drive away.
At Jasmine Daya & Co., we work on a contingency fee basis which means that we will not be paid until your case has been resolved. If you or your loved ones have suffered a personal injury, call the team at Jasmine Daya & Co. at 416-967-9100 or contact us online at www.jdlawyers.ca to schedule a free consultation.