Social Host Liability and Holiday Tips
A “social host” is a legal term designating a category of individual for the purpose of legal analysis of negligence. It includes, for example, a person hosting a private party.
You may recall that the cause of action negligence requires legal proof of a negligent act, causation and damage, and that controlling devices include a duty of care (requiring proximity between the tortfeasor and victim), remoteness of damage and legal defences. A legal theory that has been debated is whether a social host can be held liable to a third party for negligence caused by a guest.
In the 2006 case Childs v. Desormeaux, the Supreme Court of Canada set forth a couple important fundamental principles. First, that “Holding 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”. Second, that “It might be argued that a host who continues to serve alcohol to a visibly inebriated person knowing that he or she will be driving home has become implicated in the creation or enhancement of a risk sufficient to give rise to a prima facie duty of care to third parties” (para. 44). The phrase “without more” left the door open for a duty of care to arise in other circumstances.
In the 2017 case Wardak v. Froom, the Superior Court made such an exception. Specifically, that a duty of care can arise if there was a paternalistic relationship of supervision and control. In Wardak, the parents who had hosted the party knew that underage drinking was taking place and the guest showed signs of intoxication prior to leaving. They were held liable for his subsequent MVA in which he sustained permanent and serious injuries.
In this video, Toronto personal injury lawyer Ben Azimi explains this case law and offers helpful tips on how to manage the risks involved in the hosting of private parties in which alcohol is served.