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British Columbia Court Provides Ruling on Social Host Liability

Posted in: Blog, Car Accidents, Serious Personal Injury, Verdicts/Settlements // Written on behalf of Cuming & Gillespie
August 6, 2020

Over the years, courts in Canada have struggled with the question of whether or not the host of a party owes a duty of care to their intoxicated guests who leave their property and an accident ensues.  The recent case of McCormick v. Plambeck was argued before Chief Justice Hinkson of the Supreme Court of British Columbia providing the latest clarification regarding social host liability in Canada.

In the latest decision concerning social host liability, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim that the Pearsons, the adult hosts of a party attended by high school students, breached a duty of care by allowing a teenager to become intoxicated on their property and failed to stop him from leaving.  The court rejected the plaintiff’s claim that the “social hosts” owed him a duty of care.

WHAT IS A SOCIAL HOST?

The 2006 Supreme Court of Canada decision of Childs v. Desormeaux defined social hosts as occupiers who are non-employer and non-commercial hosts.   In this case, the court held that a social host does not owe a duty of care to anyone that became injured by the actions of an intoxicated guest.  However, the court did imply that a duty may be owed by social hosts given the rights set of facts.

The case of Williams v. Richard went on to clarify that the duty of care owed by social hosts is determined by the facts of the case and more specifically the issues of foreseeability and proximity.

Foreseeability refers to whether the host knew or ought to have known that their guest was intoxicated or their guest had plans to engage in dangerous activity, such as driving while impaired.

Proximity refers to a “special link” between the host and the intoxicated guest.  Relevant facts that are examples of proximity include whether the host supplied the alcohol or whether the host knew underage drinking was occurring.

THE FACTS OF MCCORMICK v. PLAMBECK

Following a party at the home of the Pearson family, the plaintiff, Calder McCormick (“McCormick”) (17 years old at the time), got into a vehicle driven by the defendant, Ryan Plambeck (“Plambeck”) (18 years old at the time), in the early hours of September 16, 2012.  Both the plaintiff and the defendant had been drinking at the house party.  Plambeck’s blood alcohol concentration at the time of the accident was less than the legal limit.

The two young men left the party on foot and proceeded to steal a neighbour’s vehicle that they knew had the a key on the driver’s side wheel.  Plambeck crashed the vehicle, killing himself and seriously injuring McCormick.

According to the facts, although the party was not closely monitored, there was some level of supervision by responsible adults and consideration given to make sure that individuals who had been drinking were not driving home intoxicated.  The Pearson parents were in the home while the party was ongoing, walked through their home to check on things and instructed their daughters to have anyone who drove to their home to leave their car keys in a bowl.

The party was ended by the Pearsons at 1:00 am and both parents drove individuals who required a ride home and offered others to sleep over, if necessary.

TRIAL JUDGE’S DECISION IN MCCORMICK v. PLAMBECK

Chief Justice Hickson decided that although the Pearsons might have foreseen that the sequence of events could have occurred at the party, the steps they took to prevent such events from having taken place were reasonable (i.e. taking car keys away from guests and driving individuals home after the party).

Chief Justice Hickson stated:

As hosts, the Pearsons had to take all reasonable steps to minimize the risks of harm to their guests, including the plaintiff.  The standard is one of reasonableness, not perfection.  … It is never possible to eliminate all risks, and the Pearsons were not required to do so.

The court ultimately concluded that the Pearsons could not have foreseen the tragic outcome when their teen guests left the party on foot. 

Chief Justice Hickson, in making his determination, considered all of the facts and the context of the Pearsons hosting a house party where underage drinking would be taking place.  He stated

Salt Spring Island is one of the Southern Gulf Islands.  It was described by a number of witnesses as a ‘laid-back’ community, where the lifestyle is slower paced than in larger urban centers.  Several witnesses commented on the habit of many on the Island leaving their homes and vehicles unlocked, and of some leaving car keys in unlocked vehicles. … [I]n 2012, the use of marijuana and consumption of alcohol by minors was apparently widespread, and condoned by many Salt Spring Island parents, despite the illegality of the use of the former at the time of the accident and the prohibition of the latter…

The court held that the Pearsons did not owe a duty of care to McCormick as the crash was not foreseeable.  Furthermore, given the context, even if the Pearsons owed a duty of care to McCormick, the Pearsons took appropriate measures to ensure a safe party and did not serve alcohol at the party (teens brought their own). 

If you or a loved one have suffered serious personal 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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