The Difference Between Premise Liability for Commercial and Private Hosts

You want to host your annual holiday party on Christmas Eve or have a dinner party with close friends to celebrate a birthday or anniversary. Food and alcohol certainly are the ingredients of a great party; but what happens when one of your guests overindulges, despite you watering down the drinks or taking responsible actions, and he or she says they “are okay to drive” and end up in a car crash injuring themselves and others? Are you liable? Did you try to take their keys away or call a cab?

In a precedent-setting case, Childs v. Desormeaux 2006, involving a tragic accident which followed after a house party, the Supreme Court of Canada decision on the topic of social host liability ruled that on the facts of that case that a social host does not owe a duty of care to a person injured by a guest who has consumed alcohol. It is important to understand that this was an adult party where the guests brought and drank their own alcohol. Other facts could give rise to different results.

A social host may have an obligation to not over serve guests, and to take reasonable steps to ensure that a guest does not drink and drive, including hiding the keys, calling a cab or organizing a few designated drivers to drive guests home.
In an article called The Death of the Party posted on the Canadian Bar Association website,, writer Laura Pratt discusses this very topic; “Social host liability is lurking just beneath the surface of Canadian jurisprudence. Commercial establishments and employers have already been found liable for damage caused by guests who’ve drunk too much. Now, lawyers say it’s only a matter of time before a simple house party can lead to disastrous legal consequences.”

Under commercial host liability, bar and tavern owners are legally responsible to not over serve a guest and must take precautions to ensure an intoxicated customer does not drink and drive. Ontario formally legislates civil liability for commercial hosts under the Liquor Licence Act, but there is a corresponding duty under the common law, as well. Companies throwing Christmas parties should also take proactive steps to ensure employees do not drink and drive following company events such as holiday parties, golf tournaments, etc. Employers are advised to be proactive in monitoring the amount of alcohol consumed by employees, avoiding the “open bar” which is often an invitation to over indulge, and to provide transportation home for employees, such as taxi vouchers, bus or subway fare, or even engaging a designated driver program at company events.

If you or someone you know has been injured as a result of a drunk driver, or as a result of negligence on the part of a bar or tavern owner, it is important to seek experienced legal counsel. At Horowitz Injury Law, we have nearly 35 years of experience and expertise in handling commercial host liability claims. Call us today for a free consultation to see if your case has merit and to learn about your legal options, at 416-925-4100.