With May long weekend and beautiful weather fast approaching you may be eagerly preparing to host family and friends for a barbecue, some games, and maybe a BYOB party. If you are, you should know that you may be legally responsible for the actions of your guests who consume alcohol and injure someone while drunk driving. I want to review a recent case on this issue and and give you some ideas as to how you can protect yourself, your guest and others this summer.
Drunk Driving isn’t Dead
Let me start with a common misconception. While drinking and driving may not be as prevalent today as it once was, it is still a common cause of death for motorists, particularly in Canada.
According to a recent study by the American Center for Disease Control, drunk driving is the cause of more motor vehicle accident deaths in Canada than any other developed country in the world. Impaired driving is the cause of 34% of roadway deaths in Canada, compared to just 6.8% in Austria, 6.2% in Japan, and 3.2% in Israel.
How Courts treat Hosts of a BYOB Party
Canadian Courts have yet to impose liability on hosts of a BYOB party. In 2006, the Supreme Court of Canada held that the host of a BYOB party did not owe a duty of care to third party motorists.
Since then, personal injury lawyers across the country have debated whether Canadian Court would ever find a party host responsible. While there has been no clear consensus, some personal injury lawyers believed that the Supreme Court left open the possibility of so called “social hosts” being found at fault in the future. The argument was that the Supreme Court left the door open – but just a crack.
The Latest Case
A recent Ontario Superior Court case just widened that crack in the door according to some personal injury lawyers. In this case an 18 year old young man named Dean attended a BYOB party. Mr. and Mrs. Froom were monitoring the party. Dean, like several others at the party, was drinking while underaged. Mr. and Mrs. Froom did not supply any alcohol, but were aware there would be drinking. The Froom’s evidence was that they supervised their guests throughout the party. At no point were any of the underage guests asked to stop drinking.
Later in the night Dean drove over a fire hydrant and hit a tree. Emergency personnel transported Dean to a hospital. Toxicology reports showed that Dean had a blood alcohol content of .274, more than three times the legal limit. The accident rendered Dean a quadriplegic.
The insurance company for the Froom’s relied on the 2006 Supreme Court of Canada decision to argue that social hosts like the Frooms, who did not serve alcohol, did not owe a duty of care to Dean. However, on this motion, Justice Matheson observed that the Supreme Court decided that no duty of care was owed by the social host to a third-party motorist. She noted that in Dean’s case however, the question was whether the social hosts owed a duty of care to one of their guests.
Justice Matheson concluded that the different facts of this case meant that the Supreme Court ruling did not necessarily prevent a finding that the Frooms were responsible to a degree. As a result, Justice Matheson dismissed the Defendants’ preliminary motion.
It is important to note the Court’s ruling on this motion is not a final judgement on the merits of the case.
Tips to Minimize Your Risk and Protect Your Party Goers
So, what can you do to minimize the risks associated with hosting a social event where alcohol will be consumed?
Provide water, food and other non-alcoholic beverages at your event so that guests stay hydrated and don’t consume alcohol just because there’s nothing else to drink.
Keep an eye on your guests. By knowing who has been drinking you know who you need to ensure gets home safely.
At the risk of stating the obvious, if someone is intoxicated, don’t let them drive home.
There are many alternatives to driving home after too many drinks. One idea is to have a couple of couches or beds available just in case someone drinks more than they planned. Another option is to call an uber or taxi. You can also coordinate rides for people who cannot safely drive with other party guests.
A newer solution is “You Drink, We Drive” and other similar services. These services have someone dropped off who can conveniently drive an intoxicated guest home in their own car.
These are all simple steps a social host can take to minimize their legal liability risk and protect their guests. But really, at the end of the day, you should be taking these steps regardless of whether you could be liable for your guest’s injuries. Irrespective of legal issues, no one wants their friend or family member to end up in Dean’s situation.
So, if someone looks like they are going to make a bad decision, stop them. An awkward conversation is a small price to pay to ensure your guests live to see your next fun event.
Have a great long weekend. Be safe and have fun!