December 13, 2017

If your guests hurt someone, can you be held responsible?

A recent decision by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice opens the possibility of making social hosts of parties responsible for the actions of their guests.

Wardak, in the case called Wardak v. Froom – decided by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on February 17, 2017 – drove his car over a fire hydrant and hit a tree. As a result of the incident, he is now a quadriplegic with cognitive impairments. At the time of the accident, he was 18 years old and his blood alcohol test showed that it was more than three times the legal limit.

Wardak, together with his immediate family, filed a social host liability claim against Mr. and Mrs. Froom – the hosts of party Wardak attended. The Frooms hosted the 19th birthday party of their son in their home. Wardak, a good friend of the Frooms’ son, was one of those who attended the party.

The Frooms argued that the social host liability claim against them should be dismissed as they did not serve nor encourage Wardak to drink alcohol. Wardak, on the other hand, argued that the Frooms should be held liable as they failed to exercise the “duty of care” required as parents when they hosted their son’s birthday party.

3 Instances where Social Hosts of Parties May Be Held Liable for the Actions of the Partygoers

In the case called Childs v. Desormeaux, the Supreme Court of Canada enumerated three instances where social hosts of parties may be held liable for the actions of the partygoers, these include:

  1. When a social host “intentionally attracts and invites third parties to an inherent and obvious risk that he or she has created or controls”;
  2. When there are “paternalistic relationships of supervision and control”, such as those of parent-child or teacher-student; and
  3. When there is a need to take “positive steps” in cases where the social host exercises a public function or engages in a commercial enterprise.

Ontario Superior Court of Justice Opens the Door for Possible Social Host Liability

Justice Wendy Matheson of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in the Wardak case ruled that it is “apparent that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Childs does not preclude finding a duty of care where there is a paternalistic relationship or where the injured party is a guest rather than a third-party.”

Justice Matheson said that the facts in Childs case did not involve under-age drinking. While the motor vehicle victim in the Wardak case was 18, he was not legally allowed to drink, the Justice said. Most significantly, in the present case, Wardak was a guest, not a third-party, Justice Matheson added.

Justice Matheson ordered the parties in Wardak case to go to trial because of the contradicting evidence of whether or not the Frooms exercise the duty of care required as a parent during the night they hosted the party for their son’s 19th birthday.

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