In the recent decision of Wardak v. Froom, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice had the opportunity to review the principles relating to the liability of a social host.
The Court began by reviewing the 2006 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in Childs v. Desormeaux. In the Childs case, the Plaintiff was paralyzed when the vehicle in which she was travelling was hit head-on by a drunk driver who had just left a New Year’s Eve party. The Plaintiff sued the owners of the home where the party took place, arguing that the owners had a responsibility to prevent their guest from driving while he was impaired.
The Supreme Court found that as “social hosts”, the homeowners who threw the party did not owe a duty of care to members of the public who may be injured by their guest’s actions, unless the hosts’ conduct somehow created or exacerbated the risk posed by their guest. The Supreme Court’s decision left open the possibility that a social host could owe a duty to their guests as opposed to members of the public.
In the Wardak case, the homeowners hosted a 19th birthday party for their son in their home. They were aware that some of the guests were drinking and that some of them were underage. The Plaintiff, one of their son’s friends, left the party intoxicated and drove home. He was in an accident which rendered him a quadriplegic. He sued the homeowners on the basis that they are liable for his injuries as social hosts.
The homeowners brought a motion asking the Court to dismiss the case on the basis that they did not owe a duty of care to the Plaintiff because they did not serve alcohol at the party.
The Court found that there may be a duty of care on the homeowners where there is a “paternalistic relationship or where the injured party is a guest rather than a third-party.” The Court commented on some of the factors at play when evaluating a homeowner’s potential liability for underage party guests, including:
- Were the homeowners aware of any underage drinking, and if so, did they take any steps to stop it?
- Were the homeowners aware that a particular guest was intoxicated?
- Did the homeowners take appropriate steps to monitor the condition of their guests?
- Did the homeowners take appropriate steps to make sure their guests got home safely?
The Court ultimately found that a trial would be necessary to resolve inconsistencies in the evidence and dismissed the homeowners’ motion. Although the Court did not make a decision as to whether the homeowners owed a duty of care to the injured guest, it did provide some important takeaways for parents who are considering hosting a party for their child where underage drinking may occur.
For more information on social host liability, or if you have any questions regarding the points outlined above, please feel free to contact me directly.
Associate – Personal Injury and Litigation Group
Disclaimer: This article is provided as an information resource. This article should not be relied upon to make decisions and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified legal professional. In all cases, contact your legal professional for advice on any matter referenced in this document before making decisions. Any use of this document does not constitute a lawyer-client relationship.