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How to Avoid Legal Troubles When Hosting Holiday Parties

Tis the season to host holiday get-togethers but before you send out those invites, Brent McQuestion from The Morris Law Group joins CH Moring Live, with Tim Bolen, with things you need to know to host a party responsibly.


Responsible Hosting Duties

Tim Bolen, Host: Well, it's pretty exciting that holiday get-togethers are back. But, before you send out those invites, Brent McQuestion, from The Morris Law Group, joins us with some things that you need to know to host a party responsibly. And I'm assuming you get a lot of McQuestions about this topic there, Brent.

Brent McQuestion, The Morris Law Group: Good one, Tim.

T.B.: [Laughs] I'm sure you've never heard that before.

B.M.: Never before.

T.B.: Never before. All right, I digress. Let's get into it.

What People Should Know When Serving Alcohol

T.B.: What are some things people should know when serving alcohol at their party?

B.M.: Well, important thing to consider is that you have to create an environment where there's safety. Both for your visitors, but that safety has to extend beyond the party itself. So, there are steps that can be taken to ensure those things.

T.B.: Okay, so what are some of those steps?

Steps to Avoid Legal Troubles

B.M.: Well, the first one would be to have an experienced person trained in safe serve. A person who controls the door so that you have some safe parameters for the party itself. It's a good thing to circulate through the party, to see what people are drinking and how much they're drinking. Even collecting the keys at the beginning of the party. Encouraging people to have safe ride options afterwards, whether it's a taxi, whether it's Uber. And in some circumstances, even inviting guests to sleep over - in a family or friend circumstance.

Types of Parties

T.B.: Because there's kind of two different types of parties we're talking about. Let's say we're talking about a social party with friends, and then there's a different type of party with an employer. So, let's go with the employer. What do employers need to think about before hosting an office party?

B.M.: It's the same considerations. And so this issue has come up the Supreme Court and various Provincial Courts of Appeals. And it's not the issue of whether the guests are bringing their own alcohol or whether you're supplying it yourself; the issue is setting the safe environment, both for the guests at the party and for options safe options afterwards for riding.

Setting the Safe Environment

T.B.: Because when it comes to the social side of things, I think it's harder to maybe because they're your friends and asking for keys because you just - there's a trust factor I think you have there is those social settings.

B.M.: That is true, and that can be awkward situations, and perhaps the best approach is having those discussions in advance of the party itself. So, that people are coming to the party with those expectations.

Responsibilities for Attendees

T.B.: Okay, responsibilities for the attendees regarding coming to and from the event safely.

B.M.: Well, that extends beyond the social hosts, and so there's always the negligence of related to drinking and driving and negligence and driving the vehicle improperly, broadly.

Who is Liable

T.B.: But if they are - but so, it is the individual hosting the party who is liable. So it is not somebody attending the party?

B.M.: Well, what I will say, then 2006, the issue came to the Supreme Court, and they did not find liability on the social hosts. But over the past 15 years, that issue has repeatedly come back to Ontario Court of Appeals. And so, while the door's not closed, there has not actually been liability found on the social host to date. Instead, what the courts have said is different categories of situations which liability could be found. And so that, with that in mind, social hosts are wise to ensure safety to not be exposed to that liability.

T.B.: It's an important topic because we are excited that we get to see people face-to-face because everything was through virtual last year. But it is an important thing to be discussing and just be thinking about if you're having people over or if you're an employer and hosting a holiday party. Brent McQuestion, from The Morris Law Group, thank you so much for joining us this morning and happy holidays.

B.M.: Thanks for having me.

T.B.: Cheers.

B.M.: Thanks for having me.

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