Summer is slowing sneaking up on us, and along with that will come summer BBQs and social gatherings. As the host you will want to make a good impression. That usually includes good food and alcoholic drinks. You will also want to be cautious about the alcoholic intake of your guests, particularly if any of them are driving.
It has been more than a decade since the Supreme Court of Canada provided its ruling on the issue of social host liability. That case involved a party at a private residence. One of the guests had drunk to excess and his ability to drive was impaired. After he left the party he was involved in an accident causing catastrophic injuries to another person in the accident.
The injured party sued the driver and the homeowners who hosted the party. The Court determined that a social host was not the same as a commercial tavern and found no liability in this situation.
However, the court left the door open that where it is shown that the host contributed to the impairment and knowingly allowed the attendee to leave in a car while intoxicated, there could be liability found against the host of the party (the social host). The court acknowledged that the social host is not expected to monitor the alcohol intake of the guests, like a commercial tavern.
The mere hosting of a party will not make the host liable for the actions of the guests. It would require more action on the part of the host, for example, where there is a paternalistic relationship between the host and guest; like a party involving teenagers under the supervision of the host’s parents.
Alternatively, liability might be found if the hosts encourage guests to engage in activities with inherent or obvious risks. This could include participation in a drinking game for example. The courts have clearly shown that they are prepared to consider the fact situation where there is potential to show negligent conduct on the part of the social host.
Hosting a party can be a lot of fun. Despite the court decisions, being a social host carries a lot of responsibility. Some things you could consider when hosting an event is to ensure you have food for your guests to eat; switching to non-alcoholic beverages as the night progresses; keep alcohol away from minors; staying sober (as the host); arrange for designated driver options; and consider hiring a bartender that is properly trained, like a Smart Serve certification. The sign of a successful party – everyone gets home safely.