When are Hosts Responsible for Guests’ Injuries?

A personal injury lawsuit in British Columbia’s Supreme Court could inform Canada’s evolving social host liability rules. The case, in which Calder McCormick is seeking damages for injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident following a 2012 house party, went to trial in mid-February. Personal injury lawyers are eagerly anticipating the decision.

What is Social Host Liability?

Social host liability applies when the host of a social gathering owes a duty of care to an injury victim. It is generally considered in cases involving alcohol.

Determining social host liability requires answering numerous questions. If, for example, a host provides alcohol to his or her guests and one of those guests becomes impaired, is the host responsible for the safety of that guest when they leave the premises? Is the host responsible for the safety of people the guest might come in contact with? Does liability still exist if the guest consumes his or her own alcohol? How does the equation change when the guest is underage?

Relevant Cases

Some of these questions have been answered in resolved cases that personal injury lawyers are well aware of, including Childs v Desormeaux and Wardak v Froom.

The Supreme Court of Canada’s 2006 ruling in Childs v Desormeaux informs much of what is known about social host liability. In that case, the plaintiff, Childs, was injured in a drunk driving accident caused by the defendant, who had recently left a private New Year’s celebration. The courts were asked to determine whether the hosts of the celebration were liable or partly liable for Childs’ injuries.

All three courts found that the hosts were not liable as they had not served alcohol to Desormeaux (the event was BYOB – Bring Your Own Booze) and had monitored his drinking to the same extent as other guests. The hosts also asked Desormeaux whether he was alright before he left and did not realize the extent of his inebriation. In other words, the hosts were not reasonably able to foresee that Desormeaux would cause an accident resulting in injuries to himself or others. Furthermore, the Supreme Court ruled that the proximity between the hosts and the plaintiff was insufficient.

“Hosting a party at which alcohol is served does not, without more, establish the degree of proximity required to give rise to a duty of care on the hosts to third party highway users who may be injured by an intoxicated guest,” the ruling reads.

In Wardak v Froom, a case from 2017, Ontario Superior Court Justice Wendy Matheson interpreted “without more” to mean that a duty of care could arise. In that case, the plaintiff, Dean Wardak, suffered catastrophic injuries in a single-car accident after attending the 19th birthday party of his neighbour, Graeme Froom. Froom’s parents hosted the gathering. They did not serve alcohol but understood that guests were drinking. During the evening, Wardak became intoxicated, left the Frooms’ residence, walked home, got into his car, and drove into a fire hydrant. Evidence suggests the hosts knew Wardak was intoxicated when he left. He is now quadriplegic.

Justice Matheson ruled in the plaintiff’s favour. Although she did not find that Wardak’s injuries were reasonably foreseeable, she determined that the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant was one of paternalistic supervision. The fact that the plaintiff was underage and showed signs of intoxication also played into the decision, as did the fact that he was an invited guest, unlike the plaintiff in Childs v Desormeaux

The Case in British Columbia

The case in British Columbia also involves underage drinking at a supervised party. In September 2012, young people, including 18-year-old Ryan Plambeck and 17-year-old Calder McCormick, gathered at the home of Stephen and Lidia Pearson on Salt Spring Island. The couple were parents to teenage children.

After spending time at the party, the boys ventured across the street to a neighbour’s lot. There, they found an unlocked, uninsured for-sale automobile with the keys inside. They took the car. Plambeck drove with McCormick in the passenger seat. Before long, they lost control of the car and crashed off the road. Plambeck died and McCormick suffered catastrophic, life-changing injuries, including a severe traumatic brain injury.

In 2014, McCormick filed a lawsuit against the Pearsons and several other parties. The lawsuit alleged that the Pearsons breached their duty of care to their underage guests by allowing them to drink on their property and failing to stop them from leaving while impaired.

“Basically, [they] did nothing to stop him from ending up on the road,” one of McCormick’s personal injury lawyers told CBC News British Columbia.

The Pearsons have denied all allegations. However, the case against them appears to resemble Wardak v Froom more than Childs v Desormeaux, in that it involves an underage plaintiff who consumed alcohol on their premises. The BC Supreme Court’s decision could influence how and when hosts invite guests – particularly underage guests – to consume alcohol on their property.

Contact Will Davidson LLP to Learn More

If you or a member of your family has been injured in a motor vehicle accident, contact Will Davidson LLP today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with our experienced Oakville personal injury lawyers. Our team has expertise in a wide variety of personal injury claims, including matters involving social host liability. Reach out today to learn more.

How Daylight Saving Time Contributes to Car Accidents

Daylight saving time, the practice of advancing clocks during spring and summer to create longer evenings, has existed in Canada for more than a century. At the time it was adopted, the goal of the program was to save energy: the longer the sun stayed up, the thinking went, the less time people would spend indoors under artificial lighting.

Today, daylight saving time is deeply unpopular. Not only does it deprive Canadians of an hour of precious sleep, but it increases the risk of car accidents, strokes, heart attacks, workplace injuries, and more. Many car accident lawyers experience an increase in queries in the week following the time change.

In January, researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder published a study in Current Biology on the effect of daylight saving time on road safety. It analyzed more than 730,000 accidents between 1996 and 2017 and found a six per cent spike in fatal car accidents in the week following the annual ‘spring forward.’ The spike accounted for 28 deaths per year, on average.

“Our study provides additional, rigorous evidence that the switch to daylight saving time in spring leads to negative health and safety impacts,” said senior author Celine Vetter, an assistant professor of integrative physiology. “These effects on fatal traffic accidents are real, and these deaths can be prevented.”

Most strikingly, the researchers found that the one-week spike in fatal accidents shifted alongside a major change to daylight saving time in 2007. Prior to that year, the ‘spring forward’ occurred in early April; since then, it occurs in mid- to early-March.

“Prior to 2007, we saw the risk increase in April, and when daylight saving time moved to March, so did the increase,” said Vetter. “That gave us even more confidence that the risk increase we observe is indeed attributable to the daylight saving time switch and not something else.”

The study also shows that drivers in the western-most regions of each time zone were more likely to be affected by the change, with fatal accidents in those regions increasing by eight per cent rather than six.

The spike is caused by both environmental factors – collisions are more likely to occur in the dark – and physiological ones. As road safety experts and car accident lawyers understand, fatigue can have a significant impact on a driver’s decision-making and judgement. It can also make them less attentive to the road.

The return to standard time, or ‘fall back,’ which occurs in October or November, also presents safety risks. According to Driving.ca, personal injury accidents involving vulnerable road users increase drastically between 5pm and 8pm in the week following the time change. The Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ) said that between 2013 and 2018, an average of 430 pedestrians were injured in the month prior to the time change and an average of 537 were injured afterward. The risk is similar in Ontario: the Ministry of Transportation reported a 19 per cent increase in injuries between 5pm and 8pm in the week following the ‘fall back.’

“This remains very similar with our 2010 to 2015 statistics, and doesn’t really seem to have changed over the years,” SAAQ spokesperson Sophie Roy told Driving.

Fatigue isn’t a factor in the accidents following the return to standard time – after all, drivers should have had an extra hour of sleep. But the suddenly dark evenings are ripe for accidents involving cyclists and pedestrians, particularly because they coincide with the homeward commute.

Many car accident lawyers, road safety activists, and even average Canadians would happily abolish daylight saving time. The energy-saving rationale that originally inspired the practice makes less sense today than it did 100 years ago – most Canadian households have heating and air-conditioning systems that run more-or-less year-round. And English road safety charity Brake estimated that ditching daylight saving time could prevent 80 deaths and 200 serious injuries per year in that country.

Contact Will Davidson LLP

If you or a member of your family has been involved in a motor vehicle accident, contact Will Davidson LLP today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. Our experienced team of car accident lawyers will assess your claim, explain your legal options, and provide guidance and advice throughout the legal process and during your recovery.

At Will Davidson LLP, we endeavour to understand the many physical, emotional, and financial challenges that accompany a serious personal injury. We have worked with thousands of accident victims during our more than 90 years of practice. In that time, we have seen clients struggle with significant financial issues that strain relationships and put wellbeing in jeopardy.

For that reason, our team is proud to offer legal services on a contingency basis. Under a contingency payment structure, our team will not charge hourly fees; instead, we will accept a pre-determined percentage of your settlement at the time that it arrives. This arrangement allows clients to maintain financial flexibility during the early days of their recovery and ensures that they are never charged for services that don’t achieve desired results.

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