Impaired Driving After Holiday Parties: Liability for Social Hosts and Employers

Hosting a holiday party can be a great way to enjoy this festive time of year. Whether you’re an employer holding a holiday party for your staff, or an individual planning an event for family and friends at home, it is important to be aware of your potential liability as a host and to take steps to ensure everyone enjoys themselves responsibly.

In Ontario, social hosts have not been found legally responsible where guests have left parties and have caused injuries to other users of the road as a result of driving while impaired; however, the Supreme Court of Canada has considered the issue and left the possibility of finding social hosts liable in the future, depending on the circumstances. In the leading Canadian case, Childs v. Desormeaux, the Court noted that if the hosts had provided alcohol with knowledge that the impaired guest would drive after the event, they could be liable.

For social hosts of holiday parties, ensure that you offer your guests non-alcoholic beverages and that guests who have consumed alcohol have a designated driver or taxi to take them home, or have them spend the night.

Employers hosting a company party should also be mindful of impaired driving after holiday parties, as business owners have been found liable for holiday parties that have gotten out of control and caused injury to their employees. Unlike social hosts, courts will treat employers holding a work party as more like a bar or tavern and will attribute liability where guests have been over-served and caused harm to others on the road.

There are a number of ways for employers to promote safety and minimize their liability exposure:

• Host an alcohol-free event;
• Consider a lunch or brunch event, as opposed to a party in the evening;
• If there will be alcohol at the event, clearly communicate to employees that excessive drinking is discouraged and that they are not to drink and drive;
• Do not have free and open access to alcohol (vouchers or tickets can be a good way to limit access to alcoholic drinks);
• Serve non-alcoholic beverages and food;
• Host the event at a venue with professional servers and a liquor licence;
• If you are hosting the party on-site rather than at a professional venue, hire a professional bartender or caterer and ensure that you are adequately insured;
• Provide alternate transportation (providing taxi chits or arranging for a transportation service) for employees to get home safely after the event; and,
• Ensure that alcohol is not served to intoxicated or underage individuals.

If you or a loved one are involved in an accident involving an impaired driver, contact a reputable personal injury lawyer.

About the Authors

As a partner at Oatley Vigmond, Lara Fitzgerald-Husek uses her empathy, creativity, and trial experience to connect with her clients and help them move forward after trauma. Lara focuses her practice solely on personal injury, and she is determined to get her clients the best possible outcome—the one they deserve.

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