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Summer is Here! Now Let’s Talk About Liability – Written by Zachery Thiffault

After a particularly long winter, summer has almost arrived in Ontario! Warm weather and sunny skies naturally call for cottage weekends, backyard parties, and barbecues. As we all know, these gathering more often than not include drinking a few beers, coolers, or glasses of wine.

Picture it; it’s the Saturday of a long weekend. It’s sunny and there isn’t a cloud in the sky, so you’ve invited your friends over for a barbecue. It’s a hot day, you’ve all had a couple drinks. As the sun sets, your friends begin to head home. One of your friends claims they’re “sober enough” to drive. They jump in their car and head home. Enroute they crash into another car, seriously injuring passengers in the other car. In addition to your concern for the passengers and your friend, as a social host you’ll ask yourself, “am I open to liability?”

This is a question many social hosts ask themselves when situations like this arise. Thankfully, the Supreme Court of Canada answered this question in a 2006 decision, Childs v Desormeaux. In a situation very similar to this one, the Supreme Court concluded that there is no duty of care between social hosts and third parties (i.e. the other cars passengers), unless the host’s actions implicate them in the creation of the risk. What types of behaviours might implicate a social host? Forcing a guest to drink to excess, then encouraging them to get behind the wheel would likely be considered creating a risk.

Does this mean you shouldn’t host a summer barbecue? Of course not! It does mean you shouldn’t encourage your guests to actively engage in risky situations. As a host take steps to ensure your guests, and those they come into contact with, arrive home safe. Cabs are a call away. As well, an Uber or Lyft is just a click away.


Zachery Thiffault is going into his third year in the University of Ottawa’s Common Law Section. He joined our firm earlier this year for a brief internship and has continued with our firm as a summer student.

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