Canada: Employers Minimize Holiday Party Liability by Taking These Steps (Part 2 of 2)

As noted in Part 1 of this article, the issue of Host Liability is categorized in 3 ways: Employer, Commercial, and Social. These principles and best practices are important to keep in mind, especially during the Christmas holiday season. In Part 2, we will focus on the Commercial and Social Host Liability categories.

Commercial Host Liability

The concept of commercial host liability was set out by the Supreme Court of Canada in a case dating back to 1973. In that case, a customer sued a bar for damages he suffered as a result of being hit by a motor vehicle after leaving a bar.

This decision established that bars, restaurants, and other commercial establishments that serve alcohol have a duty to protect their customers and the public. They cannot serve customers alcohol to the point of intoxication, and then turn them loose onto the streets. These principles have been affirmed in a recent BC Court of Appeal decision. In another case of the same year, the Court held a pub 20% liable for the actions of the defendant who, after drinking at the pub, was involved in a car accident. The bartender did not notice that the defendant was becoming extremely drunk since the defendant was neither falling down or slurring their words.

Social Host Liability

Thirty years later, in another case before the Supreme Court of Canada the issue was tackled about whether individuals who host a party can also be held liable for the actions of their intoxicated guests.

In this case, the defendants had hosted a New Year’s Eve party at their home. The guests of the party provided their own alcohol. One of their guests drove home from the party in an intoxicated state. While on his way home, he collided head-on with another vehicle, killing one of the passengers and seriously injuring three others. The party hosts were not held liable for the car accident. The Court explained that a social host may be held liable if their conduct contributed to the risk:

A social host; 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.


Supporting Article Research Sources: Cox & Palmer, Mondaq