Tavern & Social Host Liability

In 2017, 1 out of every 20 Canadian drivers reported having driven while impaired at least once.

Despite that figure, impaired driving rates have actually been declining over the last 30 years. Much of this has to do with education around drunk driving, but we might also look to stricter enforcement and more stringent laws as a contributing factor.

One of the most important laws governing intoxication is tavern and social host liability. Employers, restaurateurs, and even party hosts have an obligation to prevent harm to the individuals in their care and to the wider public under this legislation.

Below, we’ll discuss exactly what tavern and social liability is, how it applies to bars and restaurants, and how the outcomes of these cases are often decided.

What is Tavern & Social Host Liability?

Where there is alcohol, there is the potential for people to become intoxicated. And where there is the potential to become intoxicated, there is tavern and social host liability. This refers to the obligation of homeowners, employers, and taverns to ensure that intoxication doesn’t lead an individual to injure themselves or others, especially in regard to drinking and driving.

These obligations vary according to whether the drinking occurred at a private home, at a work party, or at a tavern. When the case in question involves the hosts of a house party, these are referred to as “social hosts”. When the case in question involves a tavern, restaurant, or party hall, these are referred to as “commercial hosts”.

How Does Tavern Liability Apply to Bars and Restaurants Serving Alcohol?

Besides the intoxicated individual, restaurants and bars are the most common defendants in motor vehicle accident cases that are caused by intoxication. Often called commercial hosts, their liability is different from social hosts and employers because they’re governed by the Liquor License Act.

The Liquor License Act governs any and all establishments that sell alcoholic beverages. Under the Act, commercial hosts have statutory responsibilities when serving alcohol to the public.

Many people mistakenly believe that bars and restaurants are automatically liable if an individual over-consumes alcohol in their establishment and then causes damages. In actuality, the Act doesn’t create liability for civil action. Instead, tavern liability comes from statutory liability and the other from common law based in tort.

Statutory Liability Claims

Section 39 of the Liquor License Act states:

“If the person to or for whom the liquor is sold commits suicide or meets death by accident when so intoxicated an action under Part V of the Family Law Act lies against the person who or whose employee sold the liquor.

If the person to or for whom the liquor is sold causes injury or damage to another person or the property of another person while so intoxicated the other person is entitled to recover an amount as compensation for the injury or damage from the person who or whose employee or agent sold the liquor.”

This is the statutory basis for liability when a tavern over-serves a person to the point of intoxication. Under these civil liability provisions, only two categories of persons can pursue civil action.

The first are the family members of the impaired individual in question, and only if that person has died as a result of intoxication. The second are any third parties that were harmed by the impaired person. For the impaired person themselves to recover damages, they must pursue a tort claim.

Tort Claims

In most cases, claims pursuing tavern liability are founded in tort. It’s only through a tort claim that the impaired person may sue for injuries and damages. Tort claims also allow family members to sue when the impaired person is either injured or deceased, and third parties may also pursue tort claims for both injury and damage.

The key component of tavern liability based in tort law is negligence. To prove negligence, the plaintiff must demonstrate:

  1. Whether the tavern owed the plaintiff a duty of care.
  2. Whether the tavern breached the standard of care they are obliged to in fulfilling that duty of care.
  3. Whether the taverns breach in standard of care was the cause of the damage, or whether the breach contributed to them in some way.

Splitting Liability Between Taverns and Impaired Persons

It’s not uncommon for courts to split liability between commercial hosts and the impaired person. The basis for splitting liability is founded in the fact that the tavern owes a duty of care to their patrons and to any third parties who might reasonably be expected to come into contact with a patron. That duty extends to taking actions that protect both the patron and the public against intoxication.

When deciding if and how to split liability, the courts usually focus on the standard of care. They’ll consider a number of factors, up to and including:

  • Whether the patron showed visible signs of intoxication
  • Whether the tavern knew of a patron’s tendency to over-consume alcohol
  • Whether it was known or expected that the patron would walk or drive after leaving the tavern
  • Whether the patron was intoxicated when they arrived at the tavern
  • Whether the tavern has a system for monitoring alcohol consumption in its patrons
  • Whether the tavern attempted to find safe transportation for the patron

In most cases involving tavern liability, taverns are found 15% responsible for the damages. However, this can range anywhere from 33% to 5%, with more liability being placed on the tavern when:

  • The patron was ejected from the tavern by staff
  • The patron’s requests for safe transportation were ignored
  • Staff consumed alcohol
  • The patron was injured at the tavern and the failure to keep the premises safe falls on the tavern

Were You Involved in a Motor Vehicle Accident with an Intoxicated Person?

When people are consuming alcohol in our homes, we have an obligation to ensure that they have a way of getting home safe in order to protect both the individual and the public. But when individuals are consuming alcohol in a commercial establishment, that duty of care is even more pronounced.

Without the proper procedures and processes in place, taverns can be found partly liable in drinking and driving cases that cause injury, damage, and death to the impaired persons, their families, and other third parties involved. If you or someone you love was involved in a motor vehicle accident where alcohol was involved, ensure that all responsible parties are brought to justice. Contact us to ask any questions and to ensure that you’re claiming all the possible damages you can.

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