Canada: ‘Tis The Season - Social Host Liability

Last Updated: December 11 2012
Article by Krista Prockiw

 "A person hosts a party.  Guests drink alcohol.  An inebriated guest drives away and causes an accident in which another person is injured.  Is the host liable to the person injured?"

The above question posed by the Supreme Court of Canada is particularly apt this time of year for, as the holiday season approaches, so too does the (seemingly) endless rounds of cocktail parties, open houses and general merriment.

The leading Canadian case on social host liability is that of Childs v. Desormeaux, 2006 SCC 18.  The Childs case arose out of a "BYOB" New Year's Eve party where the defendant hosts only provided a small amount of champagne upon which to toast in the New Year.  One of the guests, Mr. Desormeaux consumed at least 12 beers over the 2½ hours he was at the party.   He drove away from the party and was involved in a head on collision which killed one passenger in the other vehicle and seriously injured three others, including rendering the plaintiff a quadriplegic.   The accepted evidence was that, while they walked him to his car, the hosts did not know of Mr. Desmoreaux's level of intoxication when he left the party. 

The $6 million lawsuit against the hosts went to the Supreme Court of Canada on the issue of the existence of a duty of care on the part of the defendant social hosts.

The Supreme Court of Canada ultimately held that "a social host at a party where alcohol is served is not under a duty of care to members of the public who may be injured by a guest's actions, unless the host's conduct implicates him or her in the creation or exacerbation of the risk"   [emphasis added].

Accordingly, the Supreme Court of Canada left it open to argue for the imposition of a duty of care in other, more extreme circumstances, such as where a host continues to serve alcohol to an intoxicated guest knowing that they will be driving.  The Court commented that:

[44] Holding a private party at which alcohol is served — the bare facts of this case — is insufficient to implicate the host in the creation of a risk sufficient to give rise to a duty of care to third parties who may be subsequently injured by the conduct of a guest.  The host creates a place where people can meet, visit and imbibe alcohol, whether served on the premises or supplied by the guest.  All this falls within accepted parameters of non-dangerous conduct.  More is required to establish a danger or risk that requires positive action.  It might be argued that a host who continues to serve alcohol to a visibly inebriated person knowing that he or she will be driving home has become implicated in the creation or enhancement of a risk sufficient to give rise to a prima facie duty of care to third parties, which would be subject to contrary policy considerations at the second stage of the Anns test.  This position has been taken in some states in the U.S.A. [cites omitted].  We need not decide that question here.  Suffice it to say that hosting a party where alcohol is served, without more, does not suggest the creation or exacerbation of risk of the level required to impose a duty of care on the host to members of the public who may be affected by a guest's conduct. [emphasis added]

The question of what constitutes the conduct sufficient to impose a duty of care was recently addressed by both the Alberta and British Columbia Courts.

In Desanti v. Gray, 2011 ABCA  226 (leave to appeal to the SCC denied), the Alberta Court of Appeal held that a social host is not obligated to ensure their inebriated guests do not engage in fights after exiting the host's property.

There, the hosts' 17 year old son held a party in the basement of their house.  The host parents remained upstairs while the party went on.  Most of the guests were minors and the evidence was that some alcohol was consumed.  The hosts invited the guests to come upstairs to the kitchen to have a snack and non-alcoholic drink before leaving the party. At this time they also made inquiries to determine how these guests would be getting home.  After leaving the party, about a block away, some of the guests were involved in an altercation with an individual with whom they had been fighting on the telephone over the course of the evening (an argument which the hosts had apparently overheard).  During this fight one of the guests from the party was injured. 

The Alberta Court of Appeal concluded that it was not reasonably foreseeable to a social host that a guest who has left a party would be the victim of a criminal act at some place outside of the control of the social host, simply because the guest consumed alcohol at the party.  The Court held that to conclude otherwise would unreasonably extend social host liability:

[23]   In these circumstances, the appellants cannot satisfy the first prong of the Anns proximity test [cite omitted], for determining the existence of a duty of care, namely the foreseeability of the physical harm suffered by the plaintiff at the hands of a third party due to his consuming alcohol at the party. It is simply not reasonably foreseeable to a householder that a guest who has left a party at that house would be the victim of an assault at some place outside of the control of the householder simply because the guest was consuming alcohol at the party [authorities omitted]. To conclude otherwise would unreasonably extend social host liability beyond that presently envisioned by the law. This is so even if the social host hears something that suggests that the plaintiff guest might act in an unwise manner after he has left.

In the British Columbia decision of Sidhu v. Hiebert, 2011 BCSC 1364, the social host held a birthday party which Mr. Heibert and Mr. Braun attended.  An intoxicated Mr. Hiebert was involved in a motor vehicle accident on his way home, and the plaintiff was severely injured.  The lawyer representing the host brought a summary trial application, relying on the Childs decision, arguing that the case should be dismissed because the social host does not owe a duty of care to monitor the amount of drinks a party guest may consume. The trial judge dismissed the application as being unsuitable to be heard on a summary judgment.  In particular, he felt that the Childs case may be distinguishable in situations where the host knows from his or her behaviour that the guest is significantly intoxicated.  Secondly, the judge concluded that the case must go to trial so that evidence could be led as to whether the host played a material role in the risk posed by the guest. 

However, the host had also commenced third party proceedings against Mr. Braun who had accompanied Mr. Heibert to the party, alleging that if a duty of care arose for him then it too arose for Mr. Braun. Mr. Braun brought an application to have the third party action against him dismissed. The Court considered the threshold question of whether a duty of care between Mr. Braun and the plaintiff arose in the circumstances. The Court ultimately dismissed the third party action stating that:

[66] The language in Childs that might allow a court to conclude that a social host owes a duty of care to highway users injured by a driver who becomes impaired as a guest of the host does not go so far as to admit the possibility of a duty on a companion or fellow traveler who does no more than observe the risky behavior of the drinking guest, and perhaps acquiesce to an extent in the risk by drinking with and then accepting a ride home from the party with the drunken guest.

The Court in Desanti declined to extend social host liability to the situation of an intoxicated guest being involved in an altercation after leaving a party.  Likewise, the Court in Sidhu declined to extend social host liability to the companion of an impaired guest.  However, the Court in Sidhu left open the potential imposition of a duty of care on the hosts should the evidence establish that they knew of the guest's level of intoxication when he left the party.  Accordingly, the question of "whether motorists can reasonably rely on a social host to not exacerbate an obvious risk by continuing to supply alcohol to an apparently impaired guest who the host knows will drive away from the party" remains to be answered.   

It is hoped that social hosts heed the Supreme Court of Canada's admonishment not to be complicit in the creation or exacerbation of any situation which risks the safety of a third party and that this question remains unanswered for the foreseeable future.

Best wishes for a safe and happy holiday season.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Krista Prockiw
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.