In a ringing reaffirmation of personal responsibility, the Supreme Court of Canada has unanimously rejected an attempt (see May 2) to hold party givers financially liable for a car crash caused by a drunken guest:
“A person who accepts an invitation to attend a private party does not park his autonomy at the door,” wrote Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.
“The consumption of alcohol, and the assumption of the risks of impaired judgment, is in almost all cases a personal choice and an inherently personal activity.”
Unlike tavern owners, said the court, social hosts can’t monitor their guests’ drinking, may be inebriated themselves, and aren’t trained to detect whether departing guests are intoxicated.
Moreover, “the law does not impose a duty to eliminate risk.
“It accepts that competent people have the right to engage in risky activities,” said the judgment. “Conversely, it permits third parties witnessing risk to decide not become rescuers or otherwise intervene.”
(Bruce Cheadle, “Top court rejects drunk guest lawsuit”, CP/Canoe, May 5; Kathleen Harris, “”, Winnipeg Sun, May 6; opinion, Childs v. Desormeaux; Ann Marie McQueen, “Case boils down to personal responsibility”, Ottawa Sun, May 6; Michelle Mann, “Supreme Court couldn’t rule on compassion in party host case”, CBC, May 5). Numerous U.S. states have embraced social-host liability, whether through legislation or through unilateral court reinterpretation of common law doctrine.