Planning a Party? Social Host Awareness

A social host is the term given to the host/hostess of a private party (non-work/commercial-related). A recent case in the Supreme Court of British Columbia raises concerns about social host responsibility where a drunken party-goer causes an accident and injury to others.

Canada’s highest court, the Supreme Court of Canada, dealt with this issue a few years ago. In Childs v. Desormeaux, a drunken guest left a private party, got into his car and then drove head-on into another vehicle. Although the party hosts were sued for damages, the case against them was dismissed. The Court decided that social hosts of parties where alcohol is served do not owe a duty of care to public users of highways. The Court found that the hosts did not know or ought to have known that the guest was impaired and further, that there was no legal duty to monitor their guests’ drinking or prevent them from driving. The Court determined that the consumption of alcohol and the assumption of the risks of impaired judgment are, in almost all cases, a personal choice and an inherently personal activity. It decided that when such a choice is made by an adult, there is no reason why others should be made to bear the cost. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada but the decision was upheld.

But would that decision still stand if the drunken party-goer was a minor? In the recent case of Lutter v. Smithson, Mazu, Collins et al., the Court refused the Defendant hosts’ application to summarily dismiss the action against them.

In this case, the Defendants allowed their daughter to host a BYOB party in their home to celebrate her 19th birthday. Unfortunately for everyone, the drunken guest who drove away from that party and caused an accident was under-age (18-years old). He hit a taxi, which killed the driver and injured the passenger. The passenger sued the drunken party-goer, the party hosts as well as the registered owner of the vehicle the party-goer was driving. (Beware lending your vehicle, but that’s for another article).

Here, unlike the Child’s case, there was evidence that the host parents were aware that the Defendant party-goer was drunk. Also, in finding that the Defendant driver was under-age, the Court found that the host parents were under a legal duty to forbid a minor from consuming alcohol “in a place under his or her control.” (B.C. Liquor Control and Licensing Act). Accordingly, the Court ordered that the matter proceed to trial.

What will the Court’s decision be? Stay tuned.

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D. Glenn Einfeld is a highly knowledgeable and experienced BC personal injury lawyer and BC motorcycle accident lawyer who has successfully litigated many ICBC claims and other insurance claims, including out of province claims, wrongful death, brain injury, spinal cord injury, whiplash, soft tissue injury, and all other serious injury claims.