It’s finally December! Social gatherings (of up to 25 people) are permitted again. The holiday season is upon us. This brings a welcomed opportunity to celebrate with close family and friends. If you plan on hosting a holiday gathering, it is important to know your legal duties as a social host.

You might be wondering:

… Do I have to monitor how much alcohol my guests are drinking?

… What if my guests drink and drive? Am I liable?

… Does it matter if my guests bring their own alcohol?

…What if my kids host a party and underage drinking is involved?

This blog explores what you need to know about social host liability in Ontario.

A host does not generally owe a duty of care to third parties (non-guests)

The leading case on social host liability in Canada is Childs v. Desormeaux. In the Childs case, an impaired guest driver drove into oncoming traffic and hit another car, killing one passenger and seriously injuring three others. He was returning from a private party where he brought his own alcohol.

The injured passengers filed a lawsuit against the drunk driver and the party’s hosts. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. In its 2006 groundbreaking decision, the Court held that the party hosts did not owe a duty of care to the injured passengers of the third party vehicle.

The Court noted:

  1. There is no statutory duty for private social hosts to monitor their guests’ alcohol consumption. This is different from commercial hosts (such as bars and restaurants), where legislation imposes a duty of care and legal responsibility.
  2. In this case, the party hosts did not create or increase the risk of an accident. They did not serve alcohol, and the guest/driver was of legal drinking age. He left the party of his own free will and had not been asked to leave the party while still drunk.
  3. Here, it was not foreseeable that the drunk guest would leave the party, drive a car, get into a car accident, and seriously injure passengers in another vehicle. This scenario was too far removed from the party hosts for legal responsibility on their part.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Childs v. Desormeaux left the door open on the topic of liability for social hosts. It hints that they may be liable in certain circumstances, but this liability requires “something more” than what was present in the Childs case.

In general, the host of a party is not liable for injuries sustained by third parties (non-guests). However, hosts may be liable for injuries sustained by guests after they leave a party while drunk.

A host may be liable for injuries sustained by an intoxicated guest who leaves the party

In 2017, the Ontario Court of Appeal reviewed the issue of social host liability in a different context.

In Wardak v. Froom, an underage party guest was seriously injured after leaving a friend’s party drunk. He walked down the street to his home, got into his car (which was parked in his parents’ driveway), and got into a serious single-car accident. The impaired guest/driver brought a lawsuit against his friend’s parents who hosted the party.

A final decision has yet to be made in this case. However, the Court of Appeal has said that this may be a situation where “something more” exists to hold the party hosts liable.

The key factors here are that:

  1. The party hosts were aware that the guest was drinking while underage.
  2. The injured person was a guest, not a third party.

These facts are different from Childs v. Desormeaux, where the guest was of legal drinking age and the injured parties were third parties (not guests).

Social host liability in Ontario is unclear

There is no hard and fast rule about social host liability in Ontario. However, what’s clear is that the courts have left room for party hosts to be liable in certain circumstances.

Generally speaking, party hosts do not owe a duty of care to third parties. However, they may owe a duty of care to guests who leave their party while under the influence of alcohol. This is especially true if these guests are underage.

While the law on social host liability is somewhat grey, responsible hosts should always make sure their guests get home safely. This includes getting home without causing harm to others. Hosts should monitor how much guests are drinking and be aware of underage drinking, even if they are not providing the alcohol.

If you plan to host a holiday get-together this December, be a responsible host. Do not let your guests drink and drive. Take steps to ensure that everyone gets home safely. Have a designated driver, call a taxi or Uber, or invite guests to spend the night. Take care and stay safe this holiday season!

Contact Tierney Stauffer LLP in Ottawa for Advice on Personal Injury Matters

For more information about social host liability in Ontario, contact one of the experienced personal injury lawyers at Tierney Stauffer LLP in Ottawa, Cornwall, Arnprior, Kingston, and North Bay. Our highly-experienced and compassionate personal injury lawyers can also assist if you have issues arising from a drinking and driving accident. We’ll advise you of your rights and help you navigate the process of bringing or defending against personal injury claims. Contact us online or at 1-888-799-8057 to book a consultation.


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