BYOB – ‘Tis The Season For Social Host Liability Claims – Or Is It?

As social gatherings kick into high gear over the holidays people are hosting parties and events at their homes and likely asking their guests to bring a bottle or two of their favorite adult beverages, and likely also are providing adult refreshments for their guests. These gatherings raise a number of interesting legal questions about who is or is not responsible in the event that someone injures themselves either while attending the party or making their way home.

The seminal case on this issue is Childs v. Desormeaux, 2006 SCC 18, where the Supreme Court of Canada addressed the question of whether a social host owes a duty of care to third parties who may be injured by an intoxicated guest.

In Childs the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal and posited that social hosts of parties where alcohol is served do not owe a duty of care to public users of the highways. This case was recently revisited in British Columbia in the case of Sidhu v. Hiebert, 2022 BCSC 1024, where the court noted that hosting a party was a common occurrence and not an invitation to participate in highly risky activity. Indeed, a host is not a parent, a commercial host, or a boat captain, among other things, and therefore does not have a positive duty to act. An individual who attends a party does not leave their autonomy at the front door and they remain responsible for their conduct and choices.

However, the court noted that if a social host does something more and this turns the social gathering into an inherent and obvious risk, then they may be held responsible if someone is injured. Some of the actions that could invite risk included whether guests were invited to bring their own alcohol, the size and type of party, whether other risky behavior was occurring at the party, such as underage drinking or drug use.

In sum, as with all things legal it depends on the facts, but as we move into the holiday season it’s important to be vigilant and look out for others and make sure your guests have a safe ride home.

If you have any further questions, we recommend that you have a discussion with your lawyer.  Please be advised that this article is for informational purposes and is not specific legal advice of any kind.

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