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Door Remains Closed on Social Host Liability

By Erin Crochetière

In Jonas v. Elliott, 2021 ONCA 124, the Court of Appeal added to the history of cases in which the courts have declined to recognize a duty of care between social hosts and those injured by the actions of their guests.[1]

The plaintiff, Mr. Jonas, was assaulted by a guest while attending a party hosted by the defendant at a facility owned by the City of Stratford. The defendant host and City were successful on a motion for summary judgment and the claims against them were dismissed.

The plaintiff appealed to the Court of Appeal, arguing that the motion judge erred in finding no duty of care on the part of the host and City.

The Court of Appeal upheld the motion judge’s determination that the host did not owe a duty of care to the plaintiff, as the second branch of the AnnsCooper Test,[2] reasonable foreseeability, had not been met.

As recently reiterated by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1688782 Ontario Inc. v. Maple Leaf Foods, 2020 SCC 35, in order for a duty of care to arise there must a relationship of  proximity between the plaintiff and defendant, and the plaintiff’s injury must be reasonably foreseeable to the defendant.

In this case, the motion judge found that their was a sufficiently proximate relationship between the plaintiff and defendant City and host, but that the plaintiff’s injury was not reasonably foreseeable for the following reasons:

  1. Experienced and trained staff were hired to serve alcohol and a friend provided security at the door;
  2. Both the plaintiff and the guest who assaulted him had consumed alcohol before attending the party but neither exhibited prior signs of aggressive behaviour or conduct that would suggest they had consumed alcohol before they arrived;
  3. The host was unaware of their prior alcohol consumption;
  4. The incident was both sudden and brief;
  5. There was only one other minor incident that evening involving an intoxicated patron who was removed from the party, placed in a taxi and taken home; and,
  6. The fact that the plaintiff was admitted to the party was not the cause of the incident.

In upholding the motion judge’s decision on this issue, the Court of Appeal further noted that there was no evidence that the altercation was caused or contributed by intoxication.

The plaintiffs also argued that summary judgment was inappropriate and dismissing the claim against the host and City would result in a risk of inconsistent findings of fact in the context of the claim against the remaining defendant, the individual who assaulted the plaintiff. The Court of Appeal rejected this argument and found that the claims against the City and host could be easily severed from the claims in assault and battery against the remaining defendant.

This case demonstrates that, in keeping with the decision in Childs v. Desormeaux, 2006 SCC 18, the courts remain reluctant to find a duty of care between social hosts and individuals who are injured by an intoxicated guest. However, based on the reasoning in this and other decisions, it remains to be seen whether such a duty could be recognized where the factual matrix demonstrates reasonable foreseeability.

[1] See for example, Williams v. Richard, 2018 ONCA 889, Childs v. Desormeaux, 2006 SCC 18 and McCormick v. Plambeck, 2020 BCSC 881. These cases are discussed at length by Thomas Macmillan in “The Latest Ruling on Social Host Liability.”

[2] See the decision in 1688782 Ontario Inc. v Maple Leaf Foods Inc., 2020 SCC 35 for the most recent iteration of the law regarding a duty of care. See also: Anns v. Merton London Borough Council, [1977] 2 All E.R. 492; Court in Cooper v. Hobart, 2001 SCC 79, [2001] 3 S.C.R. 537 (S.C.C.).