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Drinking and Driving: Accident After Work Party

Commercial hosts, such as banquet halls, must take steps to prevent over-service of alcohol and to stop guests from drinking and driving.

In Eastwood v. Walton, 2019 ONSC 4019, an insurance company held a staff Christmas party at a banquet hall. Following the party, an employee of the insurance company, Walton, was involved in a serious accident while driving her car. Her blood-alcohol reading was two or three times the legal limit.

The injured plaintiff sued Walton, her employer, the banquet hall, and others. On a summary judgment motion, the banquet hall sought to be dismissed from the lawsuit.

Walton could not recall how many glasses of wine she had consumed. Other people poured wine into her glass.

Three co-workers who were sitting at the same table as Walton did not notice Walton slurring her words, talking slowly, walking with difficulty, or exhibiting any other type of behaviour to suggest that she was intoxicated. Moreover, they stated that the event began with emcees reminding people not to drink and drive.

The president and owner of the banquet hall indicated that all staff members had taken the Smart Serve course in addition to in-house training on alcohol service. He also said that two people were monitoring guests at the exit doors and advising them of available taxi services. Moreover, the party was well-staffed.

The banquet hall argued that it was not liable for the car accident. It stated that, if people sitting at Walton’s table did not notice any intoxication, then how could the court assume that the banquet hall’s staff should have noticed intoxication? The banquet hall also pointed to its procedures to prevent drinking and driving.

The plaintiff argued that the banquet hall had no system to monitor the number of drinks a particular guest consumed. Further, there was evidence from one of the guests that no one was at the door to check people as they were leaving. Moreover, none of the serving staff at the banquet hall gave evidence.

In addition, referring to Supreme Court of Canada authority, the plaintiff argued that the banquet hall could be held liable even if Walton had no visible signs of intoxication. A person can be intoxicated without showing it.

Justice Sloan dismissed the summary judgment motion. He indicated that, based on the evidence, he was not able to conclude whether or not staff members were at the exits to assess the sobriety of guests when they were leaving the party.

Justice Sloan also stated that there was no evidence from any of the banquet hall’s casual staff on their understanding of their duties with respect to alcohol service and what, if anything, they noticed on the night in question. Further, there was no evidence on what efforts were made to contact the casual staff for the purposes of the motion.

As a result, Justice Sloan found that there were genuine issues requiring a trial. He said that a jury is well able to decide whether the banquet hall met its duty of care related to how they served alcohol and how they tracked the consumption of alcohol by individual patrons.