Further to my previous article where I discussed a social host’s responsibilities when hosting a party, it can be reported that the Ontario Court of Appeal has recently re-affirmed the existing state of the law regarding a host’s liability for their guests.
The initial presumption is that whomever hosts a gathering where alcohol is consumed is potentially liable for any harmful actions that their intoxicated guests cause to themselves or others. The Ontario Court of Appeal allowed an appeal in a social host case, permitting it to proceed to Trial on its facts, which might support the position that the hosts in that case breached their duty of care.
The critical issues to be considered in a social host situation are foreseeability and proximity. Foreseeability refers to the host’s knowledge of the guest’s level of inebriation and/or intention to engage in what might be considered a dangerous activity that may cause harm to themselves or others. Proximity has been defined as “something more” in the facts of the particular case that would necessitate action on the part of the host.
In the case that was sent to Trial, one might consider the fact that, after three hours of drinking in the host’s garage and consuming approximately 15 beers, it was obvious that the individual was too intoxicated to drive. Nonetheless, he was allowed to leave the host’s location, go home, put his children in his car and drive the babysitter home. Unfortunately, this drive led to catastrophic consequences. It was originally decided that the duty of care ended when the inebriated driver arrived at his own home safely. The Court of Appeal thought differently. I am sure you will hear more about this case in a future blog.
We must now also be concerned about individuals becoming intoxicated due to the use of cannabis. It is reasonable to assume that becoming intoxicated from the use of marijuana will lead to social host liability similar to that created by alcohol. Cannabis, however, creates different challenges for a host because it is not easy to recognize cannabis impairment. Once again, the facts of each case would need to be considered.
While the law might suggest that you can be responsible and found legally liable for your guests if they over-indulge in any inebriating substance, being mindful of your guest’s safety is just the right thing to do. One should never let a guest drive if there’s any question about their ability to do so safely, regardless of the substance they have used.