What one intoxicated holiday party guest may cost you

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by Brian Cameron, Oatley Vigmond LLP

This is a busy time of year for holiday parties at people’s homes and workplace. It is also a time of year when some people drink more than usual and get into accidents when operating a vehicle while under the influence.

Whether you’re an employer hosting a company holiday party for your staff, or an individual planning an event for family and friends at home, it is important to be aware of your potential liability and your responsibility as a host and to take steps to ensure everyone gets home safely. The recent legalization of cannabis makes it much more difficult to know if your guests are safe. It’s harder to tell when guests become unexpectedly more intoxicated due to the mixing of alcohol and cannabis.

The Supreme Court of Canada has considered the issue of social host responsibility and left the possibility of finding social hosts liable should a guest be involved in an accident.

In a recent legal decision, released in February 2017, Wardak v. Froom, an Ontario court left open the possibility that a social host could be held responsible if an intoxicated guest becomes injured after leaving their event. In that case, the plaintiff left the party on foot, went home and got into his car and was involved in a serious single vehicle accident. He sued the hosts of the party he had been drinking at that night. The court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case before trial.

Social hosts may be held liable if an intoxicated guest is injured, even if the hosts did not serve alcohol directly to the individual. This is particularly the case if the guest was invited and underage.

For homeowners planning a holiday party ensure that you offer your guests non-alcoholic beverages and that guests who have consumed alcohol have a designated driver or taxi to take them home or have them spend the night. Let guests know that if hey plan to enjoy cannabis that it is an expectation that the don’t mix it with alcohol.

Employers hosting a company party should also be mindful of impaired driving after a company event, as business owners have been found liable for holiday parties that have gotten out of control and caused injury to their employees. Unlike social hosts, courts will treat employers in a similar way to a bar that overserves a patron who then drives and causes an accident.

Impaired driving is reckless and dangerous. People who drink should obviously take responsibility for their own actions. However, employers and social hosts also assume partial responsibility to ensure that guests get home safely after they have been drinking alcohol.

If you are interested in discussing this further, I can offer you expert legal opinion from Brian Cameron, senior partner at Oatley Vigmond – Ontario’s largest personal injury law firm. This interview would focus on offering advice to party hosts on the things they can do to host a safer party and limit the chance of an accident.

Brian Cameron is a senior partner at Oatley Vigmond LLP – Ontario’s largest personal injury law firm. You can reach Brian at www.oatleyvigmond.com

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