As we get into the holiday season and host friends and loved ones, what are the responsibilities of hosts to their guests? Daniel Roncari of the Morris Law Group joined CH Morning Live with information about social host liability.
Bob Cowan, Host: Well, there’s very few holiday parties where there isn’t alcohol served and that of course can lead to tragedy. But a good host does their best to make sure that doesn’t happen, still can though. Daniel Roncari of Morris Law Group is here to talk about your legal obligations as we head into a New Year's weekend. Thanks so much for joining us.
Daniel Roncari, The Morris Law Group: It's my pleasure to be here.
What is a social host?
B.C.: First of all, can we get a definition of a social host?
D.R.: Well, a social host is a person or group of persons hosting a party but it's not looking to profit financially from the party.
B.C.: Ok, so anybody hosting a party is going to fall under that umbrella.
What is a social host's liability?
B.C.: So, are there any specific laws? There are vulnerabilities, but is there actual liability here for the host?
D.R.: It is possible that a social host could be found liable for the actions of their guests. So, if somebody leaves a party while drunk and gets behind the wheel and causes injury to themselves or to someone else, a social host could be found liable. Now, in Canada, a social host has never been found liable in the Courts. But the recent cases that have developed sort of suggests that it is possible.
B.C: Yeah, so it comes down to the circumstance. So, for example, it's a blatant example where someone's clearly intoxicated you just let them go at the door.
D.R.: If somebody is leaving your party and they're clearly intoxicated and you don't take steps to prevent them from driving, it is likely or it's possible that a court could find that social host liable. A lot of it will depend on what type of system they had in place. One day when they were having their party and the degree of their knowledge. But yes, if they know somebody's drunk and leaving their premises and getting behind the wheel of a car, the court would definitely want to see what type of actions they took to prevent that person from driving.
B.C.: Yeah, so it's very much on a case-by-case basis. So, I mean anyway anyone can litigate here based on these circumstances. So, those test cases you mentioned, it came close.
D.R.: Well, there is a recent decision where a young man left the party, he drove, he was intoxicated. He got into a very bad accident, he was rendered a quadriplegic, and he sued the home owner, the social host. And the lawyers for the social host, they brought a motion to the court basically asking the judge to dismiss the action on the basis that a social host has never been found liable. But the judge in that case didn't dismiss the action outright. So that certainly opens the door. Now it doesn't mean that they will be found liable, but that's a gray area there.
What are the liabilities of potential hazards in the home?
B.C.: Absolutely, yeah. I see the court’s discretion. Now the home itself (walkways or potential hazards in the home); what kind of liability or vulnerabilities are there?
D.R.: Well, every homeowner has duties under the occupiers' liability act to make sure that their home is reasonably safe for people using it. So, they need to ensure that there's no hazards on the walkway that it's safe for people on their homes and that they've taken steps to ensure the safety of people who are using the premises.
How can social hosts protect themselves from liability?
B.C.: Yeah. So, the takeaway here is I mean there are steps that we can do.
D.R.: Absolutely, especially if a social host is hosting a party. There are number of things that they can do to ensure the safety of their guests and also to protect themselves from liability.
B.C.: Yeah, and of course I have lots of food non-alcoholic options and uber options.
D.R.: Yes, it would be a good idea to have a system in place where you let's say take the keys from your guests and return them if you're confident that somebody is able to drive. to provide accommodations to your guests to stay over. To call a taxi or an uber to make sure they get home safely. And a good idea would even to have a bartender particularly one who's trained in smarts or protocols to ensure that their guests are not being over serve alcohol.
B.C.: Okay, thanks for the expert help. Daniel Roncari is with Morris Law Group and have a safe happy new year.
D.R.: Thank you, you too.
B.C.: Thanks for joining us.