This is the time of year for celebrations. But even at a private social gathering the law is there, like a party crasher.
There are some important responsibilities and considerations to bear in mind if you are hosting a private social event. Of course you want your guests to have fun, but it is also your responsibility as host to ensure that your home is safe, that guests remain under control, and that you have taken reasonable steps to ensure that everyone gets home safely.
Here are some issues you should consider if you decide to host a party:
Alcohol - Will your guests be drinking?
If you have guests at your house and alcohol is served, do you have a legal duty to third parties who might be injured by a drunk guest? In other words, can you be liable if one of your guests drinks too much and hurts someone? For example, if a guest leaves your party drunk, drives, and then injures someone in a car crash, are you responsible for that person’s injuries?
This area of law is called ‘social host liability,’ and it is complex. The idea of social host liability was established in a case called Childs v. Desormeaux, which was decided by the Supreme Court of Canada. Basically, the Supreme Court has said that social hosts are entitled to respect their guests’ independent decision-making, and that adult guests are responsible for their own actions if they drink too much. In general, social hosts do not have a duty of care to third parties like someone injured in a car crash by a guest who consumed alcohol at the host’s social event.
As is often the case with law, however, it all depends on the facts. Childs v. Desormeaux tells us the picture might be different if a social host creates a high-risk situation, or heightens risks. Examples of heightening risk could include running drinking games, continuing to serve alcohol to a guest who is clearly drunk and who the host knows will then be driving, allowing a guest who is clearly drunk to leave - knowing they will be driving home.
The situation might also be different if you serve alcohol to minors, as there may be more expectation to supervise minors; also the Liquor Control Act prohibits underage drinking, and buying liquor for, or giving or selling liquor to a minor (click here for current fine amounts) are all offences. The legal drinking age in Nova Scotia is 19.
Whether or not there is a risk of being sued, or of getting a ticket, if you serve alcohol at your party:
- make sure there are designated drivers,
- arrange for taxis,
- consider letting guests stay overnight, and
- do not serve alcohol to minors.
You can learn more about social host liability by reading the Public Legal Education Association of Saskatchewan’s article on social ‘Host Liability’.
Property Damage - Who pays for that broken window?
As host, you may be wholly or partly liable to pay for or repair any property damage caused by your guests. You may also be liable for damage to the property of others caused by your guests.
However, depending on how the damage happened to your property and the nature of this damage, you might be able to sue the guest for the cost of repairs or replacement. You might also be able to make claim under home or tenant insurance, depending on the deductible in your policy.
A guest who damages property, such as breaking a window or fence, might also be charged with mischief (property damage) under the Criminal Code of Canada.
Personal Injury - Who pays if a guest is injured?
As host of an event, you are expected to ensure that your home is safe. If someone is injured on your property, you may be found partly or perhaps wholly liable for the injury. Click here to find out more about 'occupiers liability' issues.
You should check your home or tenant insurance to see what it covers. Further information about home and tenant insurance is available from the Insurance Bureau of Canada.
Noise - Before you crank-up the music!
Most municipalities have noise by-laws that give law enforcement authority to address noise complaints. For example, it is an offence under the Halifax Regional Municipality's Noise By-law N-200 to unreasonably disturb the neighbourhood, and the fine for a first offence is $467.50. The Halifax by-law covers activities such as loud parties, yelling, shouting, and playing loud music. You can find out if there is a noise by-law in your community by contacting your local municipal government. If you are renting a house or apartment, you may also face the possibility of eviction for "bad behaviour" such as repeated noise complaints. Contact NS Residential Tenancies at 1 800 670-4357 or 902-424-5200, or online at www.novascotia.ca, for information about landlord and tenant rights and responsibilities.
This page gives legal information only, not legal advice.