Social host liability is a legal concept most commonly associated with injuries allegedly caused or contributed to by the negligence of a social host.
One of the motivating factors in exploring the potential negligence of a social host involves the exploration of whether or not there is an insurance policy that will provide coverage for the damages sustained by the injured party and their families. For example, a commercial establishment may have a commercial liability policy or in the case of an individual defendant, there may be a homeowner’s insurance policy that will respond and provide coverage for the injuries sustained.
The following article provides a brief overview of the current state of the law with respect to social host liability in a noncommercial setting.
The most common examples of a potential social host liability claim in a noncommercial setting would be where an individual held a private party where alcohol was consumed and one of the guests was injured as a result of participating in an activity at the party or was involved in a serious motor vehicle collision after leaving the party.
Determining whether the social host had a “duty of care” to their guest sufficient to attract liability will turn on the specific facts of the matter. Simply holding a house party where alcohol is served is not sufficient to establish negligence on the host.
Social host liability claims
A social host liability claim will focus on two main issues. The first issue involves foreseeability. A foreseeability analysis examines the host’s knowledge of the guest’s level of intoxication and/or the guest’s plan to engage in a potentially dangerous activity. The second issue involves an analysis of proximity and whether there was a duty for the host to act.
There are many different factual considerations that could transform a benign social gathering into an invitation to engage in an inherent and obvious risk. At one end of the scale would be a small dinner party involving mature adults where departing guests had no obvious signs of intoxication. At the other end of the scale could be the situation where a parent condones a large house party in a rural setting that is unsupervised and where underage drinking is taking place. In the absence of additional mitigating factors, the former will not attract social host liability while the latter will likely lead to the hosts being found negligent and responsible in a civil action. The following are examples of relevant factors the court could take into consideration in their social host liability analysis:
- Was alcohol being served at the party or were guests invited to bring their own alcohol?
- What was the size and nature of the party that was held?
- Was risky behaviour occurring at the party such as underage drinking or drug use?
- What was the potential for risky behaviour occurring such as participating in the operation of ATVs, motorcycles or snowmobiles on the property.
- What knowledge did the host have concerning the degree of intoxication of their guest?
- Is the relationship between the host and the guest paternalistic in nature such as a parent to a child or a teacher to a student?
- Did the host continue to serve alcohol to a visibly intoxicated guest knowing that they would be driving home?
Importantly, the courts have consistently held that simply holding a house party where alcohol is consumed is not a high-risk activity. In the absence of “something more”, a party host does not have an inherent paternalistic relationship with their guests nor are their guests considered to be under the supervision or control of the party host.
About the Author
Chris Clifford is a Queen’s University graduate and former professional goaltender with the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins organizations.
Chris’ legal career began with the Toronto firm of Cassels Brock and Blackwell. He then began working for one of Eastern Ontario’s top insurance defence firms – Templeman Menninga. In the fall of 1999 Chris joined forces with Ted Bergeron and since that time they have limited their practice to the representation of injured plaintiffs and their families.