Party host's duty to guests does not include policing them: Ford
By Tony Poland, Associate Editor
The host of a party is not expected to police their guests when it comes to drinking or smoking marijuana, but they still have an obligation to keep them safe, Kamloops personal injury lawyer Matthew Ford tells AdvocateDaily.com.
Ford, partner with Cates Ford Epp LLP, says courts have ruled that hosts are not bound to closely monitor their guests’ alcohol consumption.
“They are not expected to be the police. They are not there to be — I think one case called it — a 'human breathalyzer' walking around, checking on the state of intoxication,” he says.
That doesn’t free the host from responsibility, Ford says, and common sense should still come into play.
“The advice is to do the right thing, particularly if you’re serving alcohol,” Ford says. “When people leave your house, check them and see if they’re OK to drive. There should be a designated person who is not intoxicated to make that assessment.”
He also advises caution when it comes to cannabis consumption.
“Because it’s unclear what is going to constitute intoxication by marijuana, if you allow someone to smoke, even a little bit, and then drive, you’re exposing yourself to liability,” Ford says. “We might see more of these cases, and the only way for a host to protect themselves from liability is to ensure that if a guest has smoked marijuana, they should not be driving because the intoxication level is unknown.”
He says “it’s definitely easier” to determine if a person is under the influence when it comes to alcohol.
“You can measure it in terms of, ‘Well, you’ve been here an hour, you’ve had three drinks, so I’m not letting you drive,'” Ford says. “It’s much more difficult to figure out with marijuana.”
He says it is better to err on the side of caution.
“In this day and age, given all of the awareness about the dangers of impaired driving — by any method — hosts are not going to be seen as unreasonable if they simply tell their guests, ‘Our policy is, if you’re going to smoke here, you’re going to have to find some other way home.'”
If there is going to be alcohol or marijuana consumption, Ford recommends having visitors hand over their cars keys when they arrive, “and they don’t get them back unless there’s a sober driver.”
“It’s not just about liability — it’s about keeping people safe on the roads, especially your friends who are attending your party and the unknown motorists on the road,” Ford says.
He says the onus is mostly on partygoers to monitor their consumption — they will ultimately be held liable if they get into an accident while intoxicated. However, while the host might not often share a legal burden, that doesn’t preclude someone from filing a lawsuit against them, Ford says.
“Nothing is preventing somebody from filing a notice of civil claim even if the law is completely against them and that is going to incur cost and time on the defendant regardless if you’re going to win in trial,” he says. “Wouldn’t you rather avoid all of that by taking that one extra step and make sure people are safe to drive when they leave your house?”