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Welcome to this week’s blog on the law. As the holiday season approaches, many people and businesses plan on hosting holiday parties. Most of these parties involve serving alcohol, which in turn gives rise to certain legal responsibilities for the host of the party. This area of law is called “social host liability”, and in this week’s blog, I will outline some important points of social host liability.
In 2006, Canada’s highest court found that a social host does not, as a general rule, have a duty to protect the public from a guest who consumes alcohol. That case involved someone who hosted a house party, and told their guests to bring their own booze. The host did not serve any alcohol, and did not see that one of the guests was intoxicated before the guest left the party and badly injured another person in a car accident. However, the court’s decision would likely have been different if the host was serving alcohol to its guests, or the host saw that the guest was intoxicated when they left the party.
People who serve alcohol as part of their business, such as restaurants and pubs, do have a duty to the general motoring public to ensure people they serve alcohol to do not pose an unreasonable risk to others. Most businesses address this duty by training their staff to monitor customers drinking and providing means to access safe rides home.
Also employers who host holiday office parties also owe a duty to their employees because there is generally an expectation of supervision in an employment relationship, and this supervision often includes what people do at office parties. On the other hand, people who are hosting a house party for friends may owe a duty to people who might be harmed by their guests if the host is providing alcohol to their guests, or they observe their guests to be intoxicated when they leave the party. These duties mean that if someone is hurt as a result of not complying with a duty, they can be sued.
If you are hosting a Christmas party, particularly if you are an employer who is hosting a party for your employees, here are some quick tips to help address your duty to reduce the risk of harm coming to others:
Avoid having your party in a location where you know it is difficult for people to obtain safe rides home from. If you are an employer, try to have your party at a licensed establishment, such as a restaurant or pub. The duty the business has to safely serve and monitor guests is greater than the duty of the employer to monitor their guests, and will help to protect people from guests who have too much to drink.
If it is decided to host your party somewhere other than a licensed commercial establishment such as a restaurant or pub, it is wise to staff the bar with someone who is qualified to be a bartender. A counter full of booze for people to help themselves is generally a bad idea. You do not need to track people’s drinks by having “drink tickets”, but someone who is tasked with serving drinks that can monitor those who appear impaired will help protect that person, and others, from harm. If you are an employer that is paying for the alcohol, you should either provide drink tickets to limit the consumption, or close the “open bar” well before the end of the party to prevent over-consumption. An employer paying for unlimited alcohol is far more responsible for its effects than an employer who limits it availability.
Serving food throughout the evening will not only reduce the effects of alcohol consumed, but will also typically reduce the amount of alcohol consumed.
You cannot force a guest to accept a safe ride home, but making them available goes a long ways to avoiding harm. If you invite a friend who you know likes to drink, think ahead about how you will help get them home. Don’t leave it until the end of the night to figure out. Make it easy for your guests to make good decisions about getting home safely.
The purpose of holiday office parties, is of course to celebrate a year’s work well done. As a result, holiday office parties often involve a great deal of cheer and enthusiasm by employees, particularly when alcohol is involved. Accidents and even conflicts are not uncommon, but people tend to drink less or at least behave better, when their spouses are around, and particularly if their children are present. Guests often still enjoy their drinks, but to less of an extreme if their family is there.
In closing, nobody likes a party pooper but nothing wrecks a holiday season more than a death or injury that could have been avoided. All of us at League and Williams, wish all of you a merry (and safe) holiday season. I hope you have learned something about the law from this blog. Please feel free to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive notice of our future weekly video blogs on the law.