This is the season when many of us would normally be attending holiday parties, dinners, and other social events with friends and family. Public health officials are advising the public to limit social gatherings and to take extra safety precautions at any events that do take place. If you decide to host such an event it is important to take measures to avoid liability as a social host.
What is Social Host Liability
The concept of social host liability arose when courts found that post event driving by an impaired guest was a potential source of social host liability. The Supreme Court of Canada has held that social hosts may be liable for the actions of their guests, even after the guests leave their property. In the 2006 case of Childs v. Desormeaux , the Court suggested that social hosts could be liable for a car accident caused by an impaired guest if they served alcohol knowing that the guest would drive after the social event.
In the 2017 case of Wardak v. Froom, the injured person, who the host owed a duty of care to was a guest at the social event. The 18-year-old brought his own alcohol to the party and became intoxicated. After leaving the event, he crashed his car and was severely injured. In Wardak, the Court held that the hosts had a “paternalistic relationship” to the injured person and that they therefore owed him a duty of care that they breached when they let him drive away while impaired.
COVID-19 and Public Health Measures
Does a social host owe a duty of care to guests not to subject them to an unreasonable exposure to COVID-19?
Because of the current pandemic and the emergence of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, personal injury lawyers are debating whether social host liability could apply beyond situations where the host supplies alcohol to guests. Would a court find a host liable for the spread of COVID-19 at their event? The courts have not had to decide this issue, but it is something to be conscious of if you are hosting a social event this season.
In response to the Omicron variant Ontario has implemented additional health measures, including capacity limits for social gatherings. These are subject to future change on short notice.
If a host fails to comply with the limit on social gatherings and their event results in the spread of COVID-19, they are potentially liable for any damages their guests experience as a result of contracting it. A home insurance policy may not cover the social host under these circumstances, because most policies have a communicable disease exclusion. The result could be that the host is personally liable to pay any damages suffered by their infected guests.
If you are hosting a social event this Christmas, monitor your guests’ alcohol consumption and know and comply with provincial and local health unit’s recommendations. Taking these precautions will reduce your potential liability as a host.