What are your legal responsibilities as a party host?

Regardless who your guests are and when the duty of care kicks in, a good host will keep his or her guest’s safety in mind.
Regardless who your guests are and when the duty of care kicks in, a good host will keep his or her guest’s safety in mind. Photo: iStock.

Ah, it’s that time of year again. Christmas is a-coming as is New Year’s. This is the time of year where one party after another is being hosted in celebration of the holiday season.

Not everything is sparkly holiday garlands and “Oh Tannenbaum” though.

If you are hosting, or planning to host a holiday party this season, then you should know that you incur some responsibility for your guests as social host.

Canadian law long has grappled with the question of just how responsible a host is for his or her guest’s intoxicated state once they hit the road after the party.

Though Canadian law has developed case law on the subject, there is still no absolute certainty and as the law is ever-evolving, it’s likely the law around social host liabilities will evolve as well.

However, the Supreme Court of Canada at least gave us some guidance on the question of liability, in the 2006 case Childs v. Desormeaux, using the foreseeability of harm analysis to decide whether the party hosts failed in their duty of care towards Childs, and should have foreseen the harm that would be caused.

In this case, Desmond Desormeaux consumed twelve beers in a relatively short time at a “bring your own booze party” (BYOB). The hosts only served a little champagne at the party. Desormeaux was known by the hosts to be a heavy drinker. One of the hosts asked him if he was ok to drive to which he responded: “No problem.” He then got into a car and got into an accident that caused a casualty, as well as leaving Zoe Childs, a passenger in the car Desormeaux hit, a quadriplegic.

The question of duty of care and foreseeability is: did the host know, or should have known, that their guest who was about to leave and get into a car to drive, was intoxicated?

The Supreme Court decided, on the facts of this case, that the hosts weren’t aware and didn’t have reason to be aware that Desormeaux was too drunk to drive.

But wait a minute! The court accepted that the hosts knew Desormeaux was a heavy drinker and still found them not responsible?

The court found that it wasn’t enough to establish a duty of care if hosts just throw a party at which alcohol is served. As Ontario personal injury litigation lawyer Najma Rashid explained on the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association Blog: “the host must do or neglect to do something which contributes to the drunk driving.”

Be warned though: if you host a party and minors are present, you must be extra careful, because a supervisory relationship arises.

Regardless who your guests are and when the duty of care kicks in, a good host will keep his or her guest’s safety in mind when throwing a party at which alcohol is served.

What can you do as party host to throw a safe party?

  • Encourage people to take public transport or cabs;
  • Ask them to carpool and designate a sober driver for the night;
  • Take away their keys if you know they’re intoxicated;
  • Stop serving alcohol after a certain time.
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