With the holiday season upon us, it is important to remind party hosts of their social host liability.
A Leading Canadian Case of Social Host Liability: Childs v Desormeaux, 2006 SCC 18
Childs is the leading case regarding social host liability in Canada. In that case, the Supreme Court of Canada held that the social host did not owe a duty of care to the plaintiff, a public user of the highway who was injured by the hosts’ intoxicated guest.
This decision hinged on two issues. First, the Court held that there was no evidence that the hosts knew or ought to have known that their guest was too drunk to drive.
Second, the Court recognized three situations that establish a “special” or proximate relationship that require legal strangers to act:
- Where a defendant intentionally attracts and invites third parties into an inherent and obvious risk that he or she has created or controls;
- Paternalistic relationships of supervision and control; and,
- Where a defendant exercises a public function or engages in a commercial enterprise that includes implied responsibilities to the public at large.
The Court did not foreclose the possibility that more situations that establish this relationship may be recognized in the future.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court held that simply holding a house party where alcohol was served is not an invitation to participate in highly risky activity. More is required to establish a risk that requires positive action.
Cases Since Childs
The cases since Childs demonstrate that there is no clear formula for determining whether a duty of care is owed by social hosts to third parties or guests. Rather, the determination of whether such a duty exists is based on the facts of each case. To make this determination, the Court will consider the follow questions:
- Did the host know that the guest was intoxicated? Did the host know about their guest’s future plans to engage in a potentially dangerous activity that subsequently causes harm?
- Is there something that creates a positive duty on the host to act?
- Did the host invite the guest into an inherently risky environment?
- Was there a paternalistic relationship between the parties?
- Did the host supply the alcohol, or did the guest bring their own?
- How big was the party? What kind of party was it?
- Were there other risk behaviours occurring at the party, such as underage drinking or drug use?
Williams v Richard, 2018 ONCA 889
Mark Williams and Jack Richard were colleagues and friends who regularly got together to drink beer after work. On one evening, Mr. Williams drank 15 cans of beer over three hours at Mr. Richard’s mother’s house. Shortly after leaving, Mr. Williams loaded his children into his car and drove their babysitter home. On the way back to his home, Mr. Williams drove into the rear of a stationary tractor trailer. He was killed and his children were injured. Two court actions ensued against Mr. Richard and his mother for their alleged breach of their duty of care as social hosts. Mr. Richard and his mother brought a motion for summary judgment to dismiss the claim against them. The Ontario Court of Appeal dismissed the motion, and held that a full trial was necessary due to the conflicting evidence of the parties.
In determining whether the social host owed a duty of care, the Court must answer the following questions:
- Was the injury reasonably foreseeable? Or, was it foreseeable that the guest would be involved in an accident by their actions or behaviour?
- Was there sufficient proximity such that there is a duty to act?
- Are there broader policy considerations that negate such a duty?
The Court of Appeal also held that there is no rule in social host liability cases that the duty of care expires upon the intoxicated individual arrive home.
Are You Liable as a Social Host?
The case law does not definitively say that social hosts are always liable for the actions of their guests. However, it does state that a social host might be liable for their guest’s actions. It is, therefore, always better to be safe and ensure that your guests do not drive while intoxicated.
Contact a civil litigation or personal injury lawyer if you were injured and think you might have a claim against a social host.