What You Should Know About Social Host Liability Claims

occupier's liability; social host; accident; alcohol; house

Occupier’s Liability

The holiday season is fast approaching and many Canadians are planning to celebrate this joyous occasion with family, friends, co-workers and clients. If you are hosting an event and will be serving your guests alcohol, did you know that you could be liable for your guests’ safety? Occupier Liability is responsibility you may assume by hosting events at your home or place of business. You can be sued if you are aware that your guests are intoxicated but fail to prevent them from causing injuries to themselves either at your party or when they make their way home. Keep reading to understand the top 10 things you should know about the laws surrounding host liability to protect yourself from liability and keep the holidays merry.

News Article (Wacky Wednesday) On Occupier Liability Issue at Halloween time Here.

What Is An Occupier?

More than half of the provinces in Canada have enacted laws surrounding occupiers’ liability. In Alberta, the Occupiers’ Liability Act (OLA or Act) sets out the law governing the legal responsibility that an occupier has towards their guests who are invited on the premises.

An occupier under the OLA is an individual who has control over the property that guests are invited to – this includes home owners, tenants and those who rent venues for special events. As an occupier, you owe a duty to your guests to keep them reasonably safe while they are on your property.

What is a Social Host?

In a 2006 case, Childs v Desormeaux, the Supreme Court of Canada defined social hosts as occupiers who are non-employer and non-commercial hosts. So, if you are a host who is not serving alcohol for a profit and is not hosting a work-related function, you are likely a social host. The courts have held that social hosts can be held liable for injuries sustained by impaired guests who get involved in motor vehicle collisions while driving home from your party.

As a social host, you can also be liable for injuries sustained by your guests under the OLA. Pursuant to the Act, occupiers have a duty of care to prevent danger to guests caused by activities on the property including supplying alcohol on the premises. When your guests are intoxicated, as an occupier you can be legally responsible for incidents that occur on your property including falls, fights and guests who choke on their vomit.

Legal Occupier Liability When Hosting a Bring Your Own Bottle (BYOB) Event

Yes, even if you do not provide alcohol at your event, you may still be held liable for alcohol-related injuries sustained by your guests. This is because a BYOB event implies that you have granted permission for your guests to consume alcohol on your property. The courts have held that in a BYOB event, social hosts should be extra attentive to their guests’ alcohol consumption levels.

What Situations Attract Occupier Liability?

As a social host, you do not have the same legal responsibility to your guests as an owner of a bar or restaurant. But, it is still important for you to remain aware of your guests’ alcohol consumption levels. Common situations that foreseeably give rise to the risk of alcohol-related injuries for your guests include:

  • when your guests are intoxicated and you are aware that they will be planning to drive home;
  • when your guests are intoxicated and you continue to serve alcohol; and
  • when you allow minors under the age of 18 to consume alcohol (remember, you must be at least 18 years old to drink alcohol in Alberta).

If you fail to prevent injuries sustained by your guests in the above-mentioned circumstances, you may be held legally responsible.

How To Reduce Social Host Liability

The Occupiers’ Liability Act provides that social hosts owe a duty of care to invited guests to prevent visitors from injuries that are reasonably foreseeable. To protect your guests, you should be planning on:

  • making sure that the property where the gathering is located is safe from potential hazards;
  • either serving the drinks personally or hiring a bartender to make it easier to track alcohol consumption;
  • refraining from drinking or drink moderately to stay alert to your guests’ behaviour;
  • serving food at your party as this will quicken the body’s ability to absorb alcohol;
  • stopping alcohol from being served an hour before you anticipate your guests leaving;
  • asking non-drinking friends and family to help monitor your guests’ alcohol consumption throughout the party; and
  • refraining from planning potentially dangerous activities at your party (such as swimming).

How To Ensure Guests Stay Safe To Avoid Occupier Liability?

As your guests arrive for the holiday celebration, greet your guests personally and pay attention to see if they have already been drinking and whether they drove to your event. Supervise the amount of alcohol your guests are consuming throughout the event. Remember, appearances are deceiving – a guest can be very intoxicated even if they do not appear to be. Call cabs for your guests if you suspect they may drink and drive. Know who the designated drivers are and make sure they are not intoxicated when they leave your event. Simply posting a sign does not protect from occupier liability.

What To Do If Intoxicated Guest Insists On Driving Home?

If you are dealing with a guest who is clearly intoxicated, offer them a spare bed for the night. Alternatively, you can offer to call a driving service where the guest’s car is driven home with them.

If your guest refuses to sober up before driving home, be prepared to call the police to help a clearly intoxicated guest from driving home. Although this may be unpleasant, it may save your guest from being involved in an impaired driving collision and help you avoid social host liability.

Does Homeowners’ Insurance Protect From Social Host Liability?

You can check with your insurance provider to see if your homeowners’ policy includes coverage for personal liability lawsuits. These include social host claims and occupier liability claims. Make sure that the limits are sufficient. If not, you may want to purchase additional social host liability policies that offer higher coverage to protect yourself. Review your insurance policy to understand which situations your insurance company will and will not cover. Insurance for a single event are relatively low cost and protect you for a 24 hour period including after the party. As some people will drive the day after a party and still be intoxicated, they protection in terms of occupier liability is a good idea. Without Insurance you will need to hire a litigation lawyer to defend this type of claim.

Reducing Liability When Hosting Work-Related Events?

In contrast to social hosts, the courts have found that individuals who host work-related events for employees or clients owe a heightened duty of care to their guests. Due to the nature of the work relationship, employers and businesses have a greater risk of being found liable for the injuries sustained by intoxicated guests. Hosts of work-related events would likely owe a greater duty of care to prevent guests from driving home impaired. In this case, hosts ought to take affirmative action and either arrange methods for transportation home (such as by providing taxi chits) and prevent intoxicated guests from being served alcohol.

What To Do If A Guest Suffers An Alcohol-Related Injury

The first step is to insure that proper medical or emergency help is sought as soon as possible. You should immediately notify your insurance company. Write down all the information leading up to the incident include the contact details of witnesses who may have observed the accident or have relevant information. Refrain from discussing the incident with the injured guest.

Legal Help Occupiers’ Liability Claims in Calgary

Whether you have suffered alcohol-related injuries resulting from the negligence of a social host or are seeking legal help to defend yourself against a occupier liability claim, contact Kahane Law today for legal assistance. Our personal injury lawyers possess a wealth of diverse experience and can help you with your claim. Call Kahane Law today to speak to one of our lawyers in Calgary at 403-225-8810 or email us directly here.