Mr. Desormeaux was at a house party hosted by Dwight Courrier and Julie Zimmerman. He had a history of heavy drinking and had had 12 beers to drink (blood alcohol of 0.225) and left to drive home. Mr. Courrier walked out to the car with him and asked if he was alright; he did not show any clear signs of intoxication. He drove away with two passengers and collided with a car head-on, killing one of the other car's passengers and severely injuring Ms. Childs, a teenager. Ms. Childs' spine was severed, and she was paralyzed from the waist down. Mr. Desormeaux pled guilty in court and was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. Ms. Childs is now suing the hosts of the party and saying that they are liable for the injuries.
- Is the host at a party liable for the actions of an inebriated guest who left their party?
- Do the hosts owe a duty of care to parties that might be injured by the inebriated person’s conduct?
McLachlin, writing for a unanimous court, states that there is no duty of care owed by the hosts to potential victims of the inebriated guest's actions. Using the framework of Cooper v Hobart, McLachlin states that this test should be compared with similar cases to see if it falls into an existing area of law, or if it is a novel case. She compares it with the situation of commercial alcohol providers, who have been found to be liable to third-party members of the public who are injured as a result of the drunken driving of a patient. However, there are three main reasons why this case can be distinguished from cases involving commercial hosts. First, commercial hosts have direct control over the alcohol consumption of their patrons. Second, there are very strict legislative rules governing commercial hosts, while no such laws exist for private parties. Finally, there is a contractual relationship between commercial hosts and their patrons – this is fundamentally different from the range of relationships that characterize private parties. Therefore, as this is a novel case, it must be put through the two stage Anns test to determine if a duty is owed.
The first step of the test is whether or not the two parties are proximate enough for a duty to be established – it must be foreseeable that the defendant’s actions could cause harm to the plaintiff. McLachlin concludes that there was not foreseeability in this case – it was found as a fact that the hosts did not know that Mr. Desormeaux was too drunk to drive, and simply knowing that he had a drinking problem does not means that they were liable for the consequences of his driving.
McLachlin then examines nonfeasance. She says that foreseeability is not the only hurdle that Ms. Childs' case has to jump in order to establish a duty. When the conduct alleged against the defendant is a failure to act, then foreseeability alone cannot establish a duty of care. The plaintiff tries to argue that by organizing the party, the hosts created a risky situation and therefore their failure to act thereafter does not protect them from liability. Although this would be true if it were the case, McLachlin finds that the hosts did not create a "risky situation" and therefore their failure to act was merely nonfeasance. She also goes on to say that positive duties of care exist in situations of paternalistic relationships, and when a defendant is exercising a public function that includes liability to the public at large – but neither of these apply to the case at bar. Overall, she says that it is only when third parties have a special relationship with the party in danger or a material role in managing the risk that the law may impinge on their autonomy and demand a positive duty of care.
McLachlin concludes that partygoers do not check their autonomy at the door of the party – they remain responsible for their own actions. Unless the partygoers are reasonably relying on the hosts for their safety (such as a party on a boat, etc.), the partygoers are solely responsible for the outcomes of their own actions. She does not need to consider the second step of the Anns test (public policy) because there was no foreseeability established here, and therefore no duty was owed.
Social Host liability does not exist in Canada: A social host at a party where alcohol is served is not under a duty of care to members of the public who may be injured by a guest's actions, unless the host’s conduct implicates him or her in the creation or exacerbation of the risk....