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Holidays and Host Liability

Posted in: Blog, Case Summaries, Motor Vehicle Accidents, Serious Personal Injury // Written on behalf of Cuming & Gillespie
December 20, 2018

With the holiday season in full swing, many Canadians plan on celebrating this time of year with family, friends, co-workers, and clients. As the host of an event, you could be liable for the safety of your guests. If you plan on serving alcohol at your event, it is important to make safety a top priority. Do not allow an accident, injury or lawsuit spoil the festive season.

WHAT IS AN OCCUPIER?

The Occupier’s Liability Act (the “Act”) sets out the law in Alberta which governs the legal responsibility that an occupier has towards guests that are invited onto their premises.

An occupier, under the Act, is an individual who has control over the property that guests are invited to, including homeowners, tenants, and those who rent venues for special events. An occupier owes a duty to their guests to keep them reasonably safe while they are on their property.

Under the Act, an occupier has the duty of care to prevent reasonably foreseeable danger to guests caused by activities on the property, which may include supplying alcohol. As an occupier you may be held legally responsible for incidents that occur on your property including falls, fights, and guests who choke on their own vomit.

WHAT IS A SOCIAL HOST?

In 2006, a Supreme Court of Canada case defined social hosts as occupiers who are non-employer and non-commercial hosts (Childs v. Desormeaux). In this case, the court did not find that the social hosts owed a duty of care to people that were injured by the actions of individuals that became intoxicated while attending the party. However, the court implied that given the rights set of facts, a duty may be owed by social hosts in Canada.

Although social hosts may not have a “positive duty to act” or a legal obligation to physically prevent their guests from drinking and driving, the Supreme Court of Canada made it clear that social host liability is fact-specific and liability may arise under certain circumstances.

Therefore, as a social host, you may be held liable for injuries sustained by impaired guests who are involved in a motor vehicle collision while driving home from your party.

ONTARIO COURT OF APPEAL DECISION

The Ontario Court of Appeal has recently released a decision which reconsiders the liability of a social host in the case of Williams v. Richard.

Mark Williams (“Mark”) had consumed approximately 15 cans of beer over the course of 3 hours while visiting at the home of his friend, Jake Richard. Shortly after leaving the Richard residence, Mark drove home and picked up his children and their babysitter and proceeded to drop the babysitter off at her home. On his way back home, he was involved in a serious motor vehicle accident resulting in his death and injury to his children. Mark’s family commenced a claim against the Jake Richard and his mother alleging that they were in breach of their duty of care as social hosts.

The Richards were granted summary judgment. The Judge stated that no duty was owed to the injured children, and even if a duty did exist, that duty ended when Mark arrived home to pick up his children and the babysitter. This decision was appealed.

The Ontario Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and rejected the motion Judge’s finding that the duty ended once Mark arrived home.  This decision provides the following highlights regarding social host liability:

  • The more information you have regarding the degree to which your guest is intoxicated, the greater the risk that you will be held liable as a social host.
  • Risk may increase with the size of your party.
  • A duty of care does not necessarily expire once the intoxicated driver arrives home. The duty is determined by the facts of each case.
  • Social host liability is determined by the unique facts of each case.

This decision is notable as it recognizes that given the right set of facts, a social host may owe a duty of care to injured third parties.

TIPS TO MINIMIZE THE RISK WHEN THROWING A PARTY

  • Inspect your home for safety hazards before the party;
  • Take the time to greet your guests when they arrive in order to see if they have already been drinking and whether or not they drove to the party;
  • Either serve drinks personally or hire a bartender to ensure that you can keep track of your guests alcohol consumption;
  • Refrain from drinking or limit your own alcohol consumption in order to stay alert to your guests’ behaviour;
  • Serve food at your party to quicken the body’s ability to absorb alcohol;
  • Be sure to offer non-alcoholic alternatives;
  • Request non-drinking friends and family to assist in monitoring your guests’ alcohol consumption;
  • Refrain from planning potentially dangerous activities at your party if you are serving alcohol, such as swimming;
  • If a guest appears to be impaired, encourage him/her to give you their car keys, offer your guest to stay the night or call a cab for your guests to avoid any incidents of drinking and driving;
  • Ensure that the designated drivers are not intoxicated when they are leaving your event; and
  • If a guest refuses to sober up before driving home or refuses to take a cab and is clearly intoxicated, be prepared to call the police to help a clearly intoxicated guest from driving home.

If you or a loved one have suffered alcohol-related injuries resulting from the negligence of a social host, contact our experienced personal injury lawyers today. We can help answer your questions and help you take legal action against the person or persons responsible for your injuries. Contact Cuming & Gillespie Lawyers today either online or at 403-571-0555 to book an appointment for a free consultation. We will review your individual circumstances and provide you with an assessment of your potential claim.

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