Ruling Delivered in Landmark Social Host Liability Case

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car keys and alcohol

Earlier this year, we discussed a British Columbia lawsuit centred on social host liability, a subject of sustained interest to Canadian car accident lawyers. The plaintiff in the lawsuit, Calder McCormick, suffered life-changing injuries in a single-car accident after a 2012 party on the property of the defendants, Stephen and Lidia Pearson. McCormick’s lawsuit also named Andrew and Megan Coupland, who owned the vehicle in the accident, and the driver of the vehicle, Ryan Plambeck. Plambeck died in the crash; his estate settled out of court.

In Canada, licensed establishments owe a clear duty of care to patrons. When an intoxicated patron is permitted to drive home, the establishment is likely to be liable for at least some of the damage they cause.

Social hosts have a less clear duty of care. The precedent-setting case on this issue, Childs v Desormeaux, found the defendants not liable for injuries caused by their guest. A ruling in favour of McCormick would have further muddied the issue.

However, Justice Christopher Hinkson ruled in favour of the Pearsons. He found that the plaintiff’s case sought to establish an unreasonable burden of responsibility on the hosts.

“As hosts, the Pearsons had to take all reasonable steps to minimize the risks of harm to their guests, including the plaintiff,” Hinkson wrote in his decision, per the Globe and Mail. “The standard is one of reasonableness, not perfection. In my view, the standard proposed by the plaintiff is essentially one of perfection; anticipating all possibilities and avoiding any risks. That is simply not the way the world works… It is never possible to eliminate all risks, and the Pearsons were not required to do so.”

The judge noted that the Pearsons collected car keys from guests and drove several intoxicated partygoers home. No other impaired drivers left their property that night.

“The Pearsons’ plan of taking keys from anyone who might have intended to drive after consuming alcohol at their home and offering rides to those who had no safe way of leaving the party was successful in avoiding reasonably foreseeable harm to their guests,” Hinkson wrote.

McCormick and Plambeck were only able to drive away on the night of the party after finding a car with keys in it on an adjacent property. The car’s owners testified that the keys were left inside for a potential buyer to test drive it. This is not an unusual practice on rural Salt Spring Island.

While the result of this case is bad news for Calder McCormick, who continues to grapple with the fallout from his injuries, and will surely be questioned by some car accident lawyers, it is helpful in further establishing guidelines for social host liability.

If you or a member of your family have been injured due to intoxication, contact Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. Our car accident lawyers will assess your claim and explain your options for pursuing compensation.


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Greg Neinstein, B.A. LLB., is the Managing Partner at Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers LLP. His practice focuses on serious injury and complex insurance claims, including motor vehicle accidents, slip and fall injuries, long-term disability claims and insurance claims. Greg has extensive mediation and trial experience and has a reputation among his colleagues as a skillful negotiator.
Greg Neinstein
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