What is social host liability?
Social Hosts are those who provide a venue where alcohol is consumed. Social Host Liability is the legal responsibility of Social Hosts for the actions of intoxicated guests, who harm themselves or who cause harm to others. BBQ and pool party season is the time of year to think about the responsibilities of Social Hosts.
Clarification is especially important because of the confusion between the liability of Social Hosts and that of Commercial Hosts—such as bars and restaurants. When we throw a backyard party, we should be just as cautious about letting our guests get behind the wheel as do licensed establishments.
Much public confusion comes from a 2006 case of the Supreme Court of Canada: Childs v. Desormeaux. In that case, the Social Hosts had provided their guests with only a small amount of alcohol and the party evolved as a BYOB affair. One guest, Mr. Desormeaux, consumed a dozen beers before getting behind the wheel and causing a motor vehicle collision, which seriously injured Ms. Childs.
In the Childs case, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled there was no evidence anyone relied on the Social Hosts to monitor guests’ alcohol consumption or prevent impaired guests from driving. On the other hand, the court said there is an almost automatic duty on Commercial Hosts to see that intoxicated guests don’t drive because of the liquor regulations which govern the sale of alcohol.
No one should think that Social Hosts are immune from responsibility because of the Childs case. A close reading of the case places a responsibility on Social Hosts whenever they are in a “special relationship” with the guest or they play “…a material role in the creation or management of the risk”.
That kind of judicial language leaves the door wide open for personal injury lawyers to gather the evidence and build a case against Social Hosts.
For those of us helping the victims of impaired drivers, it is a matter of looking for the evidence of the role played by the Social Host in creating risk of guest impairment or managing the impaired guest.
So if you are planning a party, just use common sense. See to it that your guests have a way of getting home safely.