What are your legal obligations as host of a Halloween party?


With costume planning in full swing and the smell of pumpkin spice in the air, it’s an ideal time to host a house party for Halloween. What better way to spend the spookiest night of the year than surrounded by your friends decked out in their most ridiculous costumes? Yep, life is good.

If There’s An Accident

But what happens if a guest drinks too much and gets hurt and/or hurts someone else in a car accident when driving themselves home. As the host of the party, can you be found legally responsible? It’s common knowledge that we should be doing our best to ensure that no one leaves our home intoxicated when getting behind a wheel. Call them a cab, set them on your coach, give them a lift, are all options we should heed in such situations.

But, while bars and other licensed establishments are legally obligated to cut off their patrons, as the host of a private party, your legal duties are a bit less clear. Still, according to Canadian law, some responsibility does exist – and it looks like those obligations may be growing larger, at least in Ontario.

Social Host Liability

That legal responsibility is referred to as social host liability – what you can be liable for when you organize a party or get-together at your home.

In 2006, the Supreme Court of Canada provided hosts with some direction on this issue. In Childs v Desormeaux, a guest at a BYOB party – who insisted he was fine to drive – got into an accident on the way home, causing serious injury to the passenger in another car.

The Court decided that the hosts of the party were not legally responsible, however, for the injury caused to the third party (the passenger). They did not fail in their duty of care and “foreseeability” (their ability to predict potential harm), the Court stated, as they couldn’t have known that the guest was intoxicated.

Broadening Of Liability

But that decision left open the possibility that social hosts can be found responsible in other situations. For example, if there’s a paternalistic relationship – such as a parent-child or a teacher-student relationship – that requires a greater expectation for supervision. Or if the guest was underage and showing obvious signs of intoxication.

Which is what the Ontario Superior Court of Justice found in 2017 in Wardak v. Froom, which involved an underage boy who got hurt himself in a car he drove after leaving a house party intoxicated. That decision gives us reason to believe that the legal responsibility of hosts may be expanding in Ontario.

Since courts still haven’t fully decided on the host’s liability for their house guests, the best approach is to be as careful as possible when hosting your own party. And, of course, play your civic duty by encouraging people not to drink and drive.

We Can Help

If you or someone you know was injured in an accident, we can help. With decades of combined experience, our team of lawyers at Howie, Sacks & Henry LLP, have a proven track record for advocating on behalf of motor vehicle accident victims and other personal injury victims.

For more information you can contact Joel Dick directly at djdick@hshlawyers.com – 416-572-3516.

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