Why You Should Think Twice About Letting Your Teenager Host A Party At Your Home

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. The sentiment of the famous tagline for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority used to apply to underage drinking in the home as well. Historically the law was never particularly concerned with minors consuming alcohol inside a home. There is no criminal or regulatory prohibition against it. And for civil liability – what lawyers call “social host” liability – there has been an exception carved out in the law for homeowners who provide alcohol to their guests, whom then go to injure themselves or others. This is in contrast to commercial hosts, like restaurants or bars, which are legally responsible when their intoxicated patrons injure themselves or others.

But the winds of change seem to be blowing.

In 2006 the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the historical exception to civil liability for social hosts in Childs v. Desmormeaux. The case involved an adult party guest who had brought his own alcohol to the party, drove his vehicle away from the party while intoxicated, and injured another motorist in a collision. The court found there was too little connection between the host and injured motorist for a finding of liability. But, it left open the possibility for a finding of liability in other circumstances where sufficient connection exists. For example, where there is a paternalistic relationship of supervision and control.

That gave rise to a handful of attempts to establish civil liability claims between the parents of social hosts and their adolescent guests. All settled prior to trial. But four cases underwent the scrutiny of a summary judgment. That means a judge had an hearing and made a determination of whether there was enough evidence to have a full trial on the issues.

The results were mixed. In Oyagi v. Grossman (2007) and Hamilton v. Kember (2008) claims against the parents of social hosts were allowed to proceed to trial. On the other hand, in Kim v. Thammavong (2007) and Ferrier v. Hubbert (2015) claims against the parents of socials hosts were dismissed.

In February 2017, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled in Wardak v. Froom that a claim against the parents of social hosts ought to proceed to trial. In that case, the parents had hosted a party for their 19 year old son. No alcohol was supplied, but the parents were aware drinking was going on and that some of the guests were minors. One of the guests left the party intoxicated, walked home, got into his vehicle, and eventually crashed it. He sued the parents for his injuries. The parents brought a motion to dismiss the claim on the basis that the Childs decision indicated there could be no social host liability. But the court disagreed. It found a sufficient paternalistic relationship between the parents and their injured guest that could give rise to a finding of liability at trial.

Parents, if you are going to allow parties in your home – and there is a valid school of thought that says it is better to have them home where you can see them, than out who-knows-where, doing who-knows-what – you need to take proper care and provide full supervision. To avoid liability, you need to be responsible. Response – able. Able to respond to any situation that arises at the party (that means being present, visible, and sober) and be ready to treat every guest with the level of care and supervision you would provide your own child. One of these unfortunate cases could make it to trial and become a precedent. Don’t let it be yours.

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