Social Host's Duty of Care

The Supreme Court of Canada released a significant decision, Childs v. Desormeaux, on May 5, 2006, regarding the duty of care owed by social hosts to third parties for the actions of their intoxicated guests. Appellant Zoe Childs was severely injured when drunk driver Dwight Desormeaux collided with the vehicle in which she was travelling. The appellant sued Desormeaux as well as the respondents, Julie Zimmerman and Dwight Courrier, who had hosted the BYOB (“bring your own booze” party) that Desormeaux had attended that evening. The appellant alleged that the respondents, as hosts of the party, were negligent in failing to prevent Desormeaux from driving while intoxicated.

The Supreme Court sided with the respondents: “Holding a private party at which alcohol is served—the bare facts of this case—is insufficient to implicate the host in the creation of a risk sufficient to give rise to a duty of care to third parties who may be subsequently injured by the conduct of a guest.”

Even if the hosts had been able to foresee the harm to the appellant, this would still not have given rise to a positive duty of care to monitor guests as in almost all cases the consumption of alcohol, and the risks of impaired judgment associated with it, are the personal choice of the guest. Hosting a party where alcohol is served, without more, does not create or exacerbate a risk of the level required to impose a duty of care on social hosts to members of the public who may be affected by a guest's conduct.

The court did not close the door to a future finding of liability if the trial judge finds that the host noticed visible symptoms of impairment: “It might be argued that a host who continues to serve alcohol to a visibly inebriated person knowing that he or she will be driving home has become implicated in the creation or enhancement of a risk sufficient to give rise to a prima facie duty of care to third parties, which would be subject to contrary policy considerations at the second stage of the Anns test. This position has been taken in some states in the U.S.A.: N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2A: 15-5.5 to 5.8 (West 2000). We need not decide that question here.”

Barry Laushway, Scott Laushway and Beth Alexander of Laushway Law Office represented the appellant. Eric Williams and Jaye Hooper of Williams McEnery acted for the respondents. Kirk Stevens of Lerners LLP acted on behalf of the intervenor, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Alan D'Silva and Nicholas McHaffie of Stikeman Elliott LLP represented the Insurance Bureau of Canada, which also intervened on the appeal.