Social Host Liquor Liability: Insurers Financial Group

Supreme Court Ruling: Social Hosts Not Liable for their Guest’s Actions

May, 2006 – In a recent Supreme Court ruling, the court had unanimously ruled private citizens are not liable for the actions of irresponsible guests.

Lobbying groups from different sides of the fence were awaiting the court’s ruling on this issue. There has already been a history of mounting litigation implicating hosts of private parties and employers holding office parties in which inebriated guests were involved in car accidents. Attorneys have been seeking to expand liability to social hosts who could have some control in much the same way bars and restaurants would have over their patrons.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada was concerned the establishment of host liquor liability would be an immeasurable risk to establish adequate premium rating for Homeowner policies (personal liability coverage). Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was hoping the law would act as a deterrence by placing the same duty of care for social hosts as would be applied to a server-patron or parent-child relationship.

Probably of most interest, The Supreme Court of Canada agreeing to hear the case in the first place indicates this issue is one of national importance. With public policy and law clearly established for drunk driving, the courts needed to address the liabilities of social hosts. In a National Survey conducted by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, most alcohol in Canada is consumed in the homes. This finding brings the issue to the national forefront.

The court did comment the ruling is not airtight with consideration of exceptional circumstances such as continuing to serve alcohol to an intoxicated guest. The court ruling, perhaps in addressing the tenet of reasonableness, could not impose an elevated duty in a social setting as they would in a commercial setting.

Notwithstanding the need to compensate victims of drunk driving, it will be seen how exceptional circumstances will be argued in both social and office functions. It would be just as tragic if all the inroads made in educating ourselves and the younger generation are lost by relaxing our duty of care by a misinterpretation of this ruling. The best risk management advice prevails: as a host or guest, be responsible!

Insurers Financial Group

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