Ho-Ho-Hosting: Be Wary of Social Host Liability this Holiday Season

‘Tis the season for holiday parties and get-togethers with friends and family. Between the eggnog and mulled wine, all may seem merry and bright, but there are several factors to consider before you host a holiday get-together this season.

In certain circumstances, social hosts may be liable for the actions of their guests, even after the guests leave their property. The Supreme Court of Canada addressed this in Childs v. Desormeaux [2006] 1 SCR 643, where the Court implied that social hosts may be liable for a car accident if they provide alcohol with knowledge that the impaired guest would drive after the event. Although the Supreme Court ultimately ruled in Childs that the hosts in question did not owe a duty of care to the injured third party, who had not attended the event, the court acknowledged that under different circumstances social hosts could owe a duty of care to third parties harmed as a result of a guest’s actions after leaving their event. Notably, the event in question in Childs was a “BYOB” party, so the hosts had not supplied the alcohol.

A similar question was again raised in the 2017 case Wardak v. Froom, 2017 ONSC 1166. In Wardak, the injured Plaintiff was a guest at the event. The Plaintiff was an 18-year-old who brought his own alcohol to the party and became intoxicated. Upon leaving the event, he got in his car and crashed it. In this case, the Court held that the Defendant hosts had a “paternalistic relationship” to the Plaintiff and found that they owed the Plaintiff a duty of care.  

In the current pandemic, many lawyers are questioning if social host liability could be applied more broadly. Can a host be liable for the spread of COVID-19 at their event? This has not yet been determined by the courts, but it is something to be wary of if you are hosting an event or party this season. 

Various health units across Ontario have recently reduced their recommended gathering limit as a reaction to the Omicron variant. Theoretically, if a host is in contravention of a gathering limit and COVID-19 spreads at their event, they are more likely to be liable for any damages that result. Home insurance policies are unlikely to cover the social host under these circumstances, as most have communicable disease exclusions. Further, if the hosts were acting outside of public health measures, there is an even greater risk that your policy will not cover you. As a result, hosts may be personally responsible for paying any damages.

If you are hosting an event this Christmas, be mindful of your guests’ alcohol intake if they are getting behind a wheel. Have taxi chits available or offer to drive them or call them a cab if they are intoxicated. With respect to COVD-19, take care to be within your health unit’s recommendations and ensure your guests are vaccinated whenever possible. Taking such cautious can reduce your potential liability as a host.

Written by

Lauren Cullen is an associate lawyer at Siskinds LLP in London, Ontario. She practices exclusively in personal injury litigation and is a member of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association (OTLA). Lauren completed her law degree at Western University in 2016 and subsequently articled at a top personal injury law firm in Toronto.