Sunday, May 07, 2006

Party Hosts: Don't be too complacent about liability

If, like me, you follow law news and you host parties, you've been anxiously awaiting the Supreme Court ruling in Childs v. Desormeaux. The Court announced its decision on Friday. Bad news for the paraplegic Zoe Childs, good news for hosts. The media has been reporting it like this:

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously on Friday that hosts cannot be held legally liable for letting their guests drive home drunk. [CBC news]
But that isn't exactly what they said. Here's a quote from the unanimous decision written by Chief Justice McLachlin with a key phrase in bold:
A social host at a party where alcohol is served is not under a duty of care to members of the public who may be injured by a guest’s actions, unless the host’s conduct implicates him or her in the creation or exacerbation of the risk.

The party that Desmond Desormeaux attended was a BYOB. Desourmeaux started drinking before he got to the party. At the party, he was mostly in a different part of the house from the hosts. He showed no obvious signs of being drunk in the hosts' presence. So, in this case, the hosts' conduct clearly didn't implicate them in the creation or exacerbation of the risk that Desormeaux posed to Zoe Childs and the other people in the car he hit.

What conduct would implicate hosts in the creation or exacerbation of the risk? The Supreme Court has given us no guidance on that topic.

If the conduct did implicate the hosts and give rise to a prima facie duty of care would public policy considerations such as the effect on insurance premiums negate the duty of care? The Court has left that question for another day as well.

My conclusions:

  • There is no change in the moral duty we hosts have to try to keep our guests from hurting themselves and others.
  • It's still a good idea to mix a weak Sangria, serve plenty of food, and have lots of non-alcoholic alternatives.
  • Collect the car keys if you ask Dave T to bring his Cosmo Kit because that just might create or exacerbate the risk.

2 comments:

other dave said...

I was wonderin' about the details on the C v. D ruling. I believe a Cosmo Kit experience could create new jurisprudence. Rats.

none said...

I am pleased for this ruling. The driver of the vehicle is the one who injured Miss Childs.

While it is a good thing to collect car keys, if someone refuses and is drunk, all you can do is call the police on them. Legally, you don't have to do this as responsibility should be on the driver.