Hosting a party? Read this first!

Author(s): L. Craig Brown

December 18, 2018

With the holiday party season in full swing, the Ontario Court of Appeal has released a decision which revisits social host liability. A “social host” could be an employer hosting a holiday party for staff or individual planning an event for family and friends. Either way, as a host, you have a responsibility to ensure your guests get home safely.

The case, Williams v. Richard 2018 ONCA 889, deals with over-consumption of alcohol, however, there’s no reason to believe that the conclusions reached by the court would not apply to cannabis. The court states the facts concisely in the first paragraph of the Williams judgment:

Mark Williams and Jake Richard were colleagues and friends. They regularly got together to drink beer after work. On the evening in issue, Mr. Williams consumed approximately 15 cans of beer over the course of about 3 hours while visiting with Mr. Richard at the home of Mr. Richard’s mother, Eileen Richard. A short time after leaving Ms. Richard’s residence, Mr. Williams loaded his children into his car and drove their babysitter home. On the way back to his residence, Mr. Williams was involved in a serious accident. He was killed and his children are alleged to have been injured.

The Williams’ family brought a claim against the Richards, alleging that they were in breach of their duty of care as a social host.

With the legalization of cannabis comes an increased likelihood that guests will be intoxicated by alcohol, drugs, or a combination of the two. As hosts, we can take away a few key points from the Williams case:

  1. The more you know about how intoxicated your guest is, the greater the risk that you will be liable as a social host.
  2. The risk may increase with the size of the party.
  3. Your duty of care doesn’t necessarily expire once the intoxicated driver arrives home: the limits of the duty are determined by the facts of the case.
  4. Whether or not a social host is liable will always be determined by the specific facts of the case.
  5. Social host liability is alive and well in Ontario.

If alcohol or cannabis is available at your holiday party, be sure to offer non-alcoholic beverages and food. If an individual is intoxicated by any substance, you may be liable for the individual until they get home so be sure to have designated drivers or taxis available to get people home safely.

As personal injury lawyers, our job is to help people who have been harmed often due to the misjudgments of others. Many of these tragedies are avoidable by looking out for one another. Social host liability should not be the only reason we help our guest arrive home safely. With so many alternatives to driving, let’s help everyone make the right decision.

If you have any questions, contact Craig Brown at 416-868-3163 or by EMAIL.

Craig Brown is one of just 14 plaintiff’s personal injury lawyers in Ontario recognized as an expert in personal injury litigation in every available peer-reviewed publication – Lexpert®, The Best Lawyers™ in Canada, as a Certified Specialist in Civil Litigation (by the Law Society of Ontario) and as a partner at a Top 10 Personal Injury Law Firm in Canada (according to Canadian Lawyer Magazine).

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