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Personal Injury

‘Tis the season to host responsibly: A party host’s legal liability.

Depending on the facts of the case, a host can be held liable for a guest’s actions.

A fun, festive time can quickly turn somber if one of your guests becomes injured. Before throwing your next holiday party, it is important to understand your legal responsibilities as a host and protect yourself from possible liability issues.

If you host a party and serve alcohol, are you liable for your guests’ actions?

In 2006, the Supreme Court of Canada released the decision Childs v Desormeaux.  This decision established social liability and what it entails for those who choose to host parties. Essentially, the court held that hosts are entitled to respect their guests’ independent decision making. Contrary to commercial hosts (for example, restaurants), private hosts are not responsible for the actions of their party-go’ers. This means that as a general rule, a private host cannot be held liable for injuries caused by a guest to a third party. The judge in Desormeaux, at paragraph 47, held:

I conclude that hosting a party at which alcohol is served does not, without more, establish the degree of proximity required to give rise to a duty of care on the hosts to third-party highway users who may be injured by an intoxicated guest.

In other words, if an intoxicated guest leaves a party and injures another in a motor vehicle accident, the party host will not be held liable for the guest’s actions.

However, like most areas of the law, there are exceptions to the rule set out by Desormeaux. Depending on the facts of the case, a host can be held liable for a guest’s actions. For example, if you amplify the risks of severe intoxication by encouraging the practice of drinking games, you could be held partially liable for injuries caused to a third party. In such a case, the court would examine the proximity between the parties to see if there was a duty of care owed to one individual by the other.

Other exceptions to the no-liability rule set out in Desormeaux include serving and selling alcohol to minors. Such practices are crimes as defined by the Nova Scotia Liquor Control Act that give rise to penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment.

Are you liable if your guest becomes injured on your property?

As held by Desormeaux, each case relies on the facts. Above ensuring the safe consumption of alcohol, private party hosts must also ensure their property is reasonably safe for others.

To ensure you and yours enjoy a safe and happy holiday season:

  • Allow your guests to consume alcohol at their own rate
  • Encourage your guests to organize ridesharing (i.e. taxi)
  • Ensure your property is hazard-free. Check for uneven, broken, or faulty structures, such as unsafe steps or missing railings

If you’ve been injured at the hands of another, MacGillivray Law will help you build your civil case against the negligent party. Contact us today to book your free consultation.

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MacGillivray Law is a personal injury law firm with offices in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador. We serve clients all across Canada.

If you cannot travel to one of our offices, we will accommodate your circumstances and travel needs. We can provide a consultation by phone, Zoom, or FaceTime, or travel to meet you in your home when required.

If you would like to learn your legal options at no obligation, contact us today to set up a free consultation.

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