When are Hosts Liable for Guests Drinking and Driving?

A must-read before your next get-together. See how to best protect yourself, and your guests.

Alex Kelly
by Alex Kelly
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A great party can look like many things, but for some, it may involve some cocktails or cannabis – especially as people get together to celebrate the nearing end of lockdown. While we never want to rain on someone's parade, a party can take a dark turn if someone leaves and gets hurt due to impaired driving. 
Onlia asked home and auto insurance policyholders if they knew their liabilities as hosts. Surprisingly, only two-thirds of respondents knew that if someone were to leave your house impaired and get into a collision or other incident, as a host, you could be held responsible under social host liability rulings. As more people begin to welcome friends and family into their homes, it’s essential to know your responsibilities if you host people – in line with public health guidelines – at your home.

Legalities of liability 

Social host liability is a complex legal ruling, taking into account many variables that differ across court cases. The legal literature is quick to caution that hosts may be deemed responsible for impaired guests' actions once they leave a party, with individual trials assessing all contributing factors on a case-by-case basis. 

For instance, if you provide alcohol to guests at a party versus opening the doors to a bring-your-own-beverage type of shindig, the law may assess liability differently. The timeline of resulting incidents once a guest leaves and who else is involved could also change the course of the ruling. Ontario courts have dealt with these exact matters, with each judicial decision varying based on the intricacies of the case. 

The Ontario Occupiers' Liability Act notes that the "occupier of a premises has a duty of care to ensure that anyone on the premises, as well as any property those persons bring, are reasonably safe." Courts can further pin liability on hosts where adverse events and injury were foreseeable due to a party. 

While the law can be challenging to navigate, one thing is certain – erring on the side of caution is essential to ensure a safe evening for all party guests and hosts. While restaurants and bars have mandated training to limit overserving and subsequent consequences, private party hosts need to rely on proactive planning and sound judgement for a positive party outcome.

Be a great host

Planning for a party may feel simple – enough drinks, great appetizers, the perfect playlist. But making sure everyone has a safe time? A little more proactive action is required. Think about how many people you'll be hosting, as well as a timeline for the get-together. As guests arrive, ask about how they are planning to get home. A simple, "Oh, you drove? Did you want to leave your car here overnight?" helps to start the conversation. 

When prepping your menu, add hearty options to leave guests feeling satiated. In addition to a stocked bar cart, have plenty of non-alcoholic drinks on hand, presenting a great time to make up some new mocktail recipes. As your party starts to wind down, swap out alcoholic beverages with coffee, tea, and water, allowing your guests to get some new hydration on board.
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As the host, you naturally won't have much of a commute to your bed at the end of the night, so it may be tempting to imbibe, carefree. However, it’s best to stay in control and focus on the party so you can be clear-headed when guests start to depart. You want to be able to assess if people can drive. If not, have numbers and cash on hand for public transit or taxis, pair guests up with a sober friend to drive them home, or guide partygoers up to a ready-made spare bed. 

And a final note – if your teenager is having a party at your home and you suspect underage drinking, it is imperative to stop the party immediately. Turning a blind eye to youthful get-togethers can turn deadly. Even if guests are bringing alcohol or cannabis into your home, and you're not providing it, you still need to be a responsible host. 

Be a great guest

If you're invited to a party, it’s just as important to be a great guest. Much like for hosts, being proactive is the best move as a guest. This means planning your evening responsibly before you start drinking or consuming cannabis. Deciding your options to get home or where you will sleep for the night is always best done with a clear head. Pre-planning will also ensure you are equipped for public transit or a rideshare home – no one ever wants to scramble for fare or re-enter credit card information as they leave a party. Once you've solved those end-of-night riddles, you can focus on enjoying the evening. 

For parties where you bring your consumables of choice, it is vital to do so responsibly. Know your limits, and stay within them. Even more helpful is alternating alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic beverages, narrowing your chances of over-consumption. At events where there is ample choice, stick to what you know – trying new drink combinations or cannabis options may have disastrous consequences, from just making you sick to landing you in the ER. 

Make memories, not worries

The best party favour around? Great stories from a fantastic evening. Being prepared with a few mindful actions can be the best way to avoid a social host liability situation, and ensure everyone gets home safe and sound. 
ALL FOR SAFETY.

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