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House Parties

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.

Negligence and Duty of Care

Risky Business

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...

  • party hosts do not have the type of special relationship with their guests that would require them to supervise their adult guests
  • hosting an adult party where alcohol is served is a common occurrence and not an unusually risky activity requiring special precautions

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.

Supplying Liquor to Minors

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.

Unsupervised Teen Parties

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.

Playing it Safe

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.

Having a Party?

Don't...

  • serve alcohol to a guest to the point where they are intoxicated, especially if you know they will be driving
  • give alcohol to minors
  • allow underage drinking in your home
  • allow unsupervised teen parties in your home or on your property whether you are out of the house, out of town or home in bed
  • invite strangers to your party, especially by making announcements on social media like Facebook
  • combine activities, like swimming or snowmobiling, with a party where guests are drinking or using drugs

Do...

  • stay sober so you are in a good position to monitor your guests and take action if needed
  • serve drinks yourself or designate a non-drinker to do this
  • serve snacks but avoid salty food that encourages more drinking
  • provide low alcohol and non-alcoholic drink options
  • stop serving alcohol several hours before the party is over
  • check in with guests before they leave so that you know if they are planning to drive and whether they are in good shape to drive
  • ask another guest to help you deal with impaired guests
  • if an impaired guest is going to drive ask for their keys, offer to call them a cab, have a sober person drive them or have them stay until they are sober - overnight or longer if necessary
  • call the police if a guest insists on getting behind the wheel while impaired
  • remember only time will sober a person up, not food or coffee
  • check out www.sirs.ca for information and training concerning responsible service of alcohol if you are hosting an event where alcohol will be served under a special occasion permit (i.e. wedding or community event)

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