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Sunday, 15 March 2020 22:42

Commercial Host Liability Featured

Commercial Host Liability Commercial Host Liability

White Knights LawAccording to MADD Canada, an average of 175 Canadians are injured per day in impaired driving-related accidents and another 4 are killed.

A report by Statistics Canada in 2018 found that 1 in 20 drivers admitted to driving while intoxicated in the last year, and most of these drivers admitted to doing so on more than one occasion.

As the fight against impaired driving continues, one aspect of Canadian law that is still evolving is a concept called “commercial host liability”. What happens when an intoxicated patron is allowed to leave a bar, restaurant, pub or hotel and subsequently injures someone while driving? Can the commercial establishment that provided the alcohol to the intoxicated patron be held liable, or partially liable, for the injuries suffered by third parties? The answer is yes.


In 1995, the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed this in its landmark ruling, Stewart v Pettie [1995] 1 SCR 131. Not only do alcohol-serving establishments have a duty to reasonably ensure an intoxicated patron’s safety, they also owe a duty of care to members of the public who may be put at risk by the impaired individual’s conduct, which includes other drivers on the road. 


The courts have recognized that as a matter of public policy, a commercial establishment that gains financially by serving alcohol to its patrons should bear some of the responsibility when an intoxicated patron injures a third party. Establishments that serve alcohol are inherently motivated to make more money by selling more alcohol - something that may implicitly encourage over-serving. One way to combat this problem is by holding these establishments liable when it is reasonably foreseeable that an impaired individual may jeopardize his or her own safety or the safety of innocent third parties. 


Commercial host liability has the practical effect of helping to ensure that an injured party receives the compensation he or she deserves, especially in the case where the intoxicated party is under- or uninsured. When accidents do occur, the law strives to hold all negligent parties accountable. Even a party only 1% at-fault for an accident, such as a bar or pub, can and should be included as a defendant in a personal injury lawsuit. Often, the court will apportion liability to all of the negligent parties involved, meaning fault will be split between the impaired driver and the commercial establishment. For example, the intoxicated person may be found to be 65% at-fault, while the establishment is determined to be 35% at-fault. The insurance companies involved will then have to contribute to the compensation awarded to the injured victim according to how liability is divided. How exactly liability is apportioned depends on the facts of each case. 


Injured plaintiffs need to remember that while there are broad, overarching legal principles when it comes to lawsuits involving commercial host liability, each case is highly fact-specific. A plaintiff must prove that the commercial establishment was negligent in over-serving a patron and failing to prevent him or her from driving while intoxicated. This is done by way of evidence and factors that are considered include: 


How long was the patron there?

How many drinks was the patron served? 

What kind of alcohol?

Had the patron consume alcohol at any point before or after visiting the establishment?

Was the patron noticeably intoxicated?

Did the establishment’s employees know (or ought to have known) that the patron was intending to drive while intoxicated?

Was the patron served alcohol after he or she was already intoxicated?

Was the patron there with anyone who was sober and could operate a vehicle or ensure the patron arrived at his or her final destination safely? 

Were the establishment’s employees properly trained in how to serve alcohol responsibly and did those employees follow the proper procedures? 

Was the patron a regular customer? Was he or she known to be prone to reckless behaviour?


Video surveillance and receipts or financial statements can be used as evidence, along with eyewitness testimony from employees or other patrons. 

The consumption of alcohol is ubiquitous in our society and while the consequences of impaired driving are widely known, alcohol-related accidents continue to occur. The role of a personal injury lawyer is to ensure that injured victims receive the appropriate compensation  from all potential sources of recovery.   


*** Please note that this article is only to provide general information. It cannot be considered legal advice. If you have any questions or concerns, or have been involved in a motor vehicle accident, please contact Braithwaite Boyle at 1-800-661-4902 and one of our lawyers would happy to assist you ***

Dallas Brenchley

Assistant to James H. Dow and Kailey L. Mack

11816 - 124 Street

Edmonton, AB T5L 0M3

Phone: 780.451.9191

Fax: 780.451.9198

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Last modified on Thursday, 19 March 2020 22:52

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