House parties can range from quiet gatherings of close friends and neighbours to all-nighters that end only with the arrival of the police. In addition to being concerned about noise bylaws, some related activities can result in charges and even lawsuits.
As a host or homeowner, being sued for damages or injuries your guests might cause may be the last thing on your mind. But it is important to consider what can happen if a guest who drank too much is in a tragic collision or the legal consequences if minors are served or allowed access to alcohol.
Although the area of social host law is still developing, one thing is clear. You could successfully be sued for injuries your guests cause - if you were negligent.
People who host parties need to consider both whether they are creating a risky situation and whether there is a supervisory relationship between them and their guests. For example, a school that is putting on an activity, such as a grad party, will have a duty of care towards the students to provide adequate supervision. Other situations may not be as clear.
Before a person can be found negligent they must have a "duty of care" towards the person injured. Another way of saying this is that individuals are expected to exercise a certain amount of care towards others who are likely to be affected by something they do. When a certain amount of care is not taken there may be a case for negligence.
Generally speaking the law allows people who witness a risky situation to choose not to become involved. However, sometimes not doing anything to prevent an injury may also amount to negligence. This is the case when the person has a special relationship with the person in danger, for example teacher/student or parent/child relationships. This is also the case if the person created or had control over the risky situation and failed to do anything to prevent an injury.
The issue of party hosts and negligence has been before the Supreme Court of Canada. Although every situation is different, the Court's ruling provides helpful information to keep in mind. Generally speaking...
However, the situation could be very different where a host continues to serve alcohol to a visibly drunk guest knowing, for example, that the guest is going to drive. The situation may also be very different where minors are involved. In these situations hosts may owe a duty of care because they have created or contributed to a risky set of circumstances.
Under Saskatchewan law a person must be 19 years of age or older to buy, drink or possess alcohol. The only exception is that a parent, guardian or spouse can give their underage child or spouse an alcoholic drink in a private place, such as a home. This exception only applies when parents, guardians or spouses give the alcohol to the minor themselves. Another person cannot be given permission by a parent, guardian or spouse to give alcohol to their underage child or spouse.
Fines and a possible jail sentence are not the only things you risk if you supply a minor with alcohol. You could be found negligent and partly responsible for injuries or damages they cause, perhaps a result of later driving after having too much to drink.
It is an offence to give or sell alcohol to someone underage. This includes things like providing alcohol at a party or purchasing alcohol for a minor. A person who gives or sells a minor alcohol can be fined up to $10,000 and sentenced to jail for up to two months.
Never providing a minor with alcohol is an important part of protecting both yourself and the minor from potentially devastating consequences. However, the fact that you did not supply the alcohol does not mean you have no responsibility. Social host liability is an evolving area of the law and hosts may not be able to avoid responsibility just because they did not actually provide the alcohol. Courts will look at all the circumstances to decide the matter of a duty of care.
It is not at all unusual for high school students to consume alcohol. Add access to social media, such as texting, Facebook and Twitter, into the mix and things can get out of hand pretty quickly. While people are not generally responsible for the negligent act of another person, there are exceptions. Allowing underage drinking in your home or on your property or failing to ensure proper supervision for teen parties could potentially fall into this category.
As mentioned before, this is an evolving area of the law. In one case a Court indicated that parents who do nothing more than permit a teenage drinking party are not responsible for everything that a drunken teenager might do after leaving the party. However, in another case the Court found that parents do owe a duty of care to people that come into their home. Leaving a teenager unsupervised, for example while parents are out of town, could be considered negligent.
Determining if someone has been negligent is a complex question that the courts will decide on the facts of the particular case. Even an unsuccessful case against you will result in you spending time and considerable amounts of money defending yourself. And even if there is no lawsuit, no one wants to be, even indirectly, responsible for someone being seriously injured or killed. Given the potential consequences it makes sense to play it safe. There are steps that people can take to protect both themselves and their guests.