Personal Injury

Party hosts should keep guests' safety and sobriety in mind

Social hosts have a responsibility to ensure their guests drink responsibly, and if they fail to do so, they may be sued and held liable, Ottawa personal injury lawyer Howard Yegendorf tells CTV News.

In Childs v. Desormeaux, [2006] 1 SCR 643, 2006 SCC 18 (CanLII), the Supreme Court of Canada found that on the specific facts of the case the social host did not owe a duty of care to users of the public roadway harmed by their intoxicated guests.

But the court did leave open the ability for other plaintiffs to come to court and claim against the social host in different circumstances, Yegendorf, of Howard Yegendorf & Associates LLP, tells the news outlet.

In an interview with AdvocateDaily.com, Yegendorf says, “There have been a number of cases against social hosts since Childs where the insurer for the defendant social host brought a motion for summary judgment for dismissal relying on the Childs v. Desormeaux decision. Many of these motions have been dismissed and the lawsuits subsequently settled.”

In fact, such was the case in a 2013 matter handled by Yegendorf.

In Klietsch v. Miller, Yegendorf represented a high school girl who was severely injured in a car crash that occurred after a party with her classmates.

“The parents of a high school girl hosted a graduation party for the Grade 12 class at their cottage and invitations were sent in advance,” says Yegendorf. “They tried to put in a system to preclude drunk driving by taking people’s keys, but the system just didn't work. There were too many guests.”

Yegendorf’s client left the party with another classmate – both intoxicated – and her classmate lost control of the vehicle they were in, leaving the girl severely injured. She and her family sued the driver of the vehicle, which was straightforward, but they also sued those throwing the party, which was more complicated, says Yegendorf.

Relying on Childs, the defendants brought a motion for summary judgment to have the case dismissed, but it was not granted, says Yegendorf. The parties then reached a settlement out of court, he adds.

“We argued that a close reading of Childs v. Desormeaux says it is not closing the door on social host liability altogether. It just said with the facts of that specific case there was no social host responsibility. But there was a different set of facts in Klietsch,” he says.

The fact that the guests at the party in Childs were adults while those in Klietsch were teenagers – most under the legal drinking age of 19 – was one important distinction, he notes.

Given the time of year, Yegendorf says it is important to remind those hosting Christmas or New Years gatherings that they have a responsibility to ensure party-goers don’t drink and drive.

“Social host responsibility is an evolving area of law as opposed to commercial host responsibility, which is pretty settled,” says Yegendorf. “A bar employee cannot let you walk out of the bar extremely intoxicated without being held responsible. That’s well understood.”

His advice to clients on the topic?

“Social hosts should recognize that they could be held responsible so they should err on the side of caution,” he says. “Make sure that if you are hosting a party that your guests are not leaving drunk and then driving a car afterwards. It’s as simple as that.”

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