Holidays & Host Liability

Dec 6, 2013 3 minute read

Holidays & Host Liability

The holiday season is filled with opportunities to celebrate with friends and family. If you’re hosting a party or a large dinner, your plans may involve serving alcohol. If your guests will be drinking, keep safety first in mind to ensure your get together stays festive.

Both Alberta and Ontario have Occupiers’ Liability legislation stating whoever has control over a property could be responsible for injuries to guests on the property. Occupiers include owners, tenants and those who rent out special venues for events. According to the law, hosts must ensure the property is safe in terms of the physical conditions, the guests they invite and the activities that occur. In other words, the host has a duty of care towards those they invite to the party. The Canadian Safety Council notes examples of lawsuits against the hosts of parties where an individual became intoxicated and injured another person.

You could be found legally liable if someone suffers an alcohol-related injury in the following situations:

  • You host a party in your home and serve alcohol to a guest who is obviously intoxicated and who you know is planning to drive.
  • You organize a function where alcohol will be consumed and fail to take reasonable steps to ensure your guests are safe while at the event.
  • You organize a company party where intoxicated employees or guests continue to be served alcohol.
  • You allow an underage child to drink or hold a party on your property where drinking will occur.

Even if you aren’t providing the alcohol, you could still be found responsible for injuries resulting from alcohol consumption on property under your control. Hosting a Bring Your Own Bottle (BYOB) event implies you have given permission for guests to drink alcohol on your property. At these events, monitoring how much your guests are drinking can be challenging since you may not be serving the alcohol. Be extra vigilant in observing your guests’ behaviour and actions to ensure everyone stays safe.

The most well-known Canadian case of social host liability is Childs vs Desormeaux which went to the Supreme Court of Canada in 2006. In this case, a couple held a New Year’s Eve party in which guests were invited to bring their own alcohol. The hosts only provided a small glass of champagne at midnight. One of their guests became intoxicated and drove home, colliding with another vehicle and paralyzing a passenger in the other car. That passenger sued not only the drunk driver, but also the hosts of the party, claiming they should have known the driver was intoxicated and stopped him from driving.

If you’re hosting a celebration this holiday, prevent your guests from drinking and driving. Have a list of phone numbers for taxi companies on hand. Make up a spare bed, or have air mattresses available in case guests need to stay overnight. It’s important to serve food containing protein and fat as this slows the body processing alcohol. Always offer non-alcoholic alternatives. Take the time to greet your guests when they arrive – this allows you to see if they have already been drinking and whether they drove to your party.

Another great way to protect yourself against any potential liability concerns is to call your BrokerLink broker. Your homeowners’ policy may include coverage for any personal liability lawsuits, but make sure this is in place and your limits are sufficient. If your party will be held at a rented venue or it’s work related, you might want to buy a “Host Liquor Liability” or “Party Alcohol Liability” policy. These policies have higher limits, making sure you’re covered in case an alcohol-related accident occurs. Your BrokerLink broker would be happy to provide a quote for this policy.

The holidays are a time to enjoy the company of friends and family. Don’t let an accident, injury or lawsuit spoil the festive season. Your BrokerLink broker can provide the gift of peace of mind, making sure you have the proper coverage so you can get back to carolling, decorating and eating turkey.