Host Liability for Intoxicated Guests

With Stampede just around the corner, many Calgarians are gearing-up for ten days of sunshine and parties. Although many hosts take great caution to ensure that their guests are safe and secure while on their premises, it is important to be aware of the various obligations that are owed to guests and third parties once the party is over - especially where alcohol is involved. Specifically, party hosts may be held legally responsible for harm caused by overserving party guests, or by allowing party guests to leave their premises while intoxicated.

A. Social Hosts

It is important for hosts of social parties (meaning non-commercial events thrown for friends and family) to be aware of the fact that they may be held liable for the actions of their guests, even after partygoers have left their premises. In the 2005 decision of Childs v Desormeaux, 2006 SCC 18, the Supreme Court of Canada considered the liability of social hosts for the actions of their intoxicated guests. In that case, Ms. Zimmerman and Mr. Courier hosted a BYOB party where one of their invited guests - the Defendant, Mr. Desormeaux - became quite intoxicated before leaving the party and driving his vehicle home. The Defendant caused a very severe motor vehicle collision while driving home and severely injured several third parties, including the plaintiff. The plaintiff commenced a personal injury claim against the hosts of the party as well as the driver himself.

In considering whether the party hosts were liable to the injured victim, the Supreme Court of Canada carefully considered the relationship between the hosts and the guests, and whether those hosts were responsible for the guest’s inebriated state. The Court placed heavy reliance on the fact that the Zimmerman/Courier party was a BYOB event - as opposed to a “host bar” event - and therefore the hosts did not have explicit control or responsibility for serving or “cutting off” their guests, and ultimately concluded that they were not liable for Mr. Desormeaux’s actions.

However, it is important to note that the Childs decision does not provide a clear immunity for social hosts, as the Supreme Court indicated that the outcome of the case may have been very different had the hosts contributed to the dangerous situation in some way, such as by serving the alcohol to their guests. Specifically, the Court held that “a social host at a party where alcohol is served is not under a duty of care to members of the public who may be injured by a guest’s actions, unless the host’s conduct implicates him or her in the creation or exacerbation of the risk” (at para. 47). Accordingly, it is important that social hosts take great caution to ensure the safety of themselves, their guests, and third parties both during and after the event.

B. Commercial Hosts

As compared to social hosts, Canadian courts have imposed much stricter obligations on commercial hosts (such as bars, restaurants, nightclubs, etc…) with respect to liability for their intoxicated patrons. In the 1995 decision of Stewart v Pettie, (1995) 1 SCR 131 (SCC), the Supreme Court of Canada recognized that an alcohol-serving dinner theatre had a positive obligation to intervene and prevent their intoxicated guests from driving home. In that case, the plaintiff was injured when the driver of her vehicle - who had been served 10 to 14 ounces of alcohol by dinner theater staff - caused a severe motor vehicle collision on the way home. In addition to suing the intoxicated driver of the vehicle, the plaintiff also sued the owners of the dinner theatre.

In considering whether the dinner theatre was liable for the actions of their intoxicated patron, the Supreme Court of Canada held that commercial vendors of alcohol (including dinner theaters) owe a general duty of care to their patrons, who can reasonably be expected to utilize public highways after leaving the premesis. The Court ultimately concluded that the dinner theatre was not liable for the plaintiff’s injuries (on a seperate point of law), but nevertheless held that the business was under a positive obligation to “intervene in appropriate circumstances, or risk liability” (at para. 56).

Please do not hesitate to contact the experienced personal injury lawyers at Rodin Law Firm if you have been injured as a result of alcohol intoxication or over-service, or have any questions about the implications of alcohol on your own injury claim. We can be reached online, or by telephone at (403) 216-0385.

Ellie Staniloff