With December upon us already, the holidays have arrived, and we’re all ready to celebrate the end of another year with our friends and family. But the return to in-person holiday events and parties brings a range of potential issues, including the nature of the responsibilities owed by party hosts and the possibility of claims if a guest becomes injured

This article looks at some tips for staying safe at holiday parties and the possibility of claims, including for harm caused by intoxicated guests.

What can holiday party hosts do to reduce the chance of accidents?

Of course, we all want to have fun during the holiday season, but both party hosts and guests can take several simple steps to reduce the chance of injury.

It is a sensible idea for party hosts to monitor the alcohol consumption of their guests and to consider remaining sober themselves to facilitate this. Over-consumption of alcohol and drugs is a key cause of party-related accidents. Providing plenty of non-alcoholic drinks, food and activities that take the focus off drinking can also help.

Party hosts should also ensure that their premises are safe for guests to attend. An important part of this in Alberta is ensuring sidewalks and driveways are kept clear of snow and ice. You could reduce the chance of slip and fall accidents by placing a mat at the entrance and checking the premises for other tripping hazards, such as loose cables.

Considering how guests will get home after the party is also a worthwhile exercise. Arranging designated drivers in advance, calling taxis and even taking away an intoxicated guest’s car keys may all be appropriate actions that can reduce the chance of accidents on the journey home. 

Social host liability and obligations under the Occupiers’ Liability Act 

Social hosts are non-commercial occupiers, including party hosts outside work where alcohol is not served for profit. Social hosts have different obligations to commercial hosts and, as discussed below, may not have a strict legal obligation to prevent a party guest from drinking and driving. 

In addition, party hosts may be occupiers of premises under the Occupiers’ Liability Act and therefore owe a duty to visitors to take reasonable care to see that they will be reasonably safe in using the premises.

Social host liability is a complex and very fact-specific area of the law. It is important to seek individualized advice if you have been injured at a party or by someone that has attended a party. If you think a party host has been negligent, contact Cuming & Gillespie LLP, and we will review your case to see if you have a possible claim.

Party hosts have been sued by injured guests and could be found liable for negligence

If you have been injured at a party due to the host’s negligence, it may be possible to successfully claim against the host. 

A party-goer attempted this in the case of Robinson v Lewis before the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta but was unsuccessful in the circumstances. The plaintiff was punched in the head by another person at the defendant’s New Year’s Eve party, breaking his jaw. The other person was convicted of aggravated assault, and the plaintiff sued the host for negligence, arguing that he was liable for negligence, occupiers’ liability and social host liability.

The Court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim, finding that the actions of the party guest were not foreseeable:

“This was a spontaneous assault by one party guest against another party guest, with no indication prior to the assault that [the defendant host] should have foreseen any risk of an assault to [the plaintiff].”

In other words, the Court concluded that a reasonable person would not have anticipated that the person would punch the plaintiff. There was also no evidence tendered to show what steps the host should have taken to prevent the assault, such as that he allowed excessive consumption of alcohol or drugs or that he failed to monitor or control the behaviour of the guests.

Party hosts generally do not owe a duty of care to non-attendees 

The Supreme Court of Canada, in the leading case on social host liability of Childs v Desormeaux, held that normally a party host does not owe a duty of care to the public in respect of injuries caused by their guests.

In that case, an impaired guest left a party and drove his vehicle into oncoming traffic. He collided with another vehicle, killing one and seriously injuring another three people. The injured parties sued the driver and the party hosts. The guest had previously consumed about twelve beers, which he had brought to the party. The party host accompanied the guest to his car at the end of the party and asked him, “Are you okay, brother?” 

The Supreme Court stated that:

“Hosting a party where alcohol is served, without more, does not suggest the creation or exacerbation of risk of the level required to impose a duty of care on the host to members of the public who may be affected by a guest’s conduct.”

However, the Court did not rule out the possibility that a host might engage in conduct that creates or enhances the risk, such that they might be responsible to the wider public for the guest’s conduct.

Contact the Personal Injury Lawyers at Cuming & Gillespie LLP for Advice on Commercial or Social Host Negligence

If you need help in the aftermath of a party, contact the personal injury lawyers at Cuming & Gillespie LLP in Calgary. If you have been injured as a result of a negligent host’s actions or in an alcohol-induced car crash, allow us to advocate for your rights and seek compensation. We have significant experience in social host liability matters and have represented injured clients for over 20 years. Call us today at 403-571-0555 or contact us online to book an appointment for a free consultation.