In a recent decision, a British Columbia court refused to find parents liable after their daughters threw a party in their home and two of the guests later ended up in a car crash.
Party Ends in Tragedy
In September 2016, the victim and his friend attended a party at a home in British Columbia. At the time of the party, the victim was 17 years old and his friend was 18.
Over 50 people attended the party, many of whom were under legal drinking age. The party was loosely supervised by the parents who owned the home. The parents occasionally walked through the party to monitor activity and ended the party at 1 a.m. They offered to drive anyone home who needed it and offered others the opportunity to sleep over at the house.
At the party, the victim and his friend consumed alcohol. After leaving the party by foot, the friend and the victim stole a car. Shortly after, the friend crashed the car, killing himself and leaving the victim seriously injured. While the Coroner’s Report cited “alcohol and cannabis impairment” as a significant condition contributing to death, the friend’s alcohol level at the time of his death was below the legal limit.
The victim sued the parents who were at the home during the party. The victim contended that the parents owed him a duty of care, and that they breached that duty of care by allowing him to become intoxicated on their property, and failing to stop him from leaving their property in that state.
In response, the parents denied any liability for the accident. They argued that there was no evidence that the victim got into a car with an impaired driver, that his judgment was seriously affected by the alcohol he consumed, or that alcohol impairment was a contributing cause of the accident. They stated that there was no evidence that the victim or the friend left the party in an obvious state of intoxication or that the partygoers were uncontrolled.Instead, they contended that the accident was caused by the friend’s negligent operation of the stolen vehicle and that the victim was contributorily negligent.
Social Host Liability
In essence, the victim was pursuing the parents for negligence. A successful action in negligence requires that the plaintiff demonstrate:
(1) that the defendant owed him a duty of care;
(2) that the defendant’s behaviour breached the standard of care;
(3) that the plaintiff sustained damage; and
(4) that the damage was caused, in fact and in law, by the defendant’s breach.
Specifically, the victim’s action was for social host liability, in which liability may be imposed on social hosts (i.e., non-commercial hosts) as a result of serving alcohol to adults or minors.
While the existence of a general duty of care between a social host and users of public highways injured by an adult party guest was rejected by the Supreme Court of Canada in Childs v. Desormeaux, later case law has clarified that each case must be evaluated on the facts, and that social hosts’ duty of care hinges largely on the issues of foreseeability and proximity.
Parents Not Liable for Accident
Ultimately, the court found that the parents could not have reasonably foreseen the events that followed after the victim and the friend left the party, stating:
“The [parents] permitted minors to come to their home, and acquiesced in the use of marijuana and the consumption of alcohol at their home. They accept that they could have refused entry to their home of anyone they did not wish to attend the party and that they had the ability to prohibit excessive drinking. The [parents] did assert some supervisory role and made some attempt to control the activities of the attendees at the party. Thus, they asserted some paternalistic relationship with the guests of the party.
I find as well that the [parents] assumed some element of control over the minors who attended the party, but I am not prepared to find that they created an inherent and obvious risk that the minor guests would or could be injured.
Although I have found that the [parents] were in a paternalistic relationship with the guests of the party, I find that no duty of care has been established in this case because the injury complained of was not reasonably foreseeable as a result of the [friend’s] conduct. The [victim]’s case thus fails on the duty of care analysis.”
As a result, the victim’s action was dismissed.
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