Appeal of Decision on Social Host Responsibility Allowed - Williams v. RIchard 2018 ONCA 889

March 15, 2019, Kitchener, Ontario

Posted by: Robert Deutschmann, Personal Injury Lawyer

Williams v. Richard 2018 ONCA 889

Date of Decision: November 7, 2018
Heard Before: Hourigan, B. W. Miller and Trotter JJ.A.

Court of Appeal for Ontario – See original here

Torts — Negligence — Duty of care — Social hosts — W becoming intoxicated at defendant's residence — W getting home safely but leaving again to drive his babysitter home with his children in his vehicle — W killed in motor vehicle accident after dropping babysitter off and children being injured — W's wife and children suing defendants for damages for negligence — Motion judge dismissing claims on motion for summary judgment on grounds that defendants did not owe plaintiffs duty of care as social hosts in circumstances of this case and that any duty of care that did exist ended when W arrived home safely — Plaintiffs’ appeal allowed — Genuine issues existing which required trial with respect to foreseeability and proximity — No automatic rule existing in social host liability cases that duty of care ends when intoxicated driver arrives home safely.

W dropped in on his friend JR unexpectedly, and both men spent the next three hours drinking beer in JR's garage. There was a beer fridge in the garage, and W drank approximately 15 beers. By the time W left, both JR and his mother, ER, with whom he lived, were aware that he was intoxicated. JR was also aware that W intended to drive his babysitter home and to take his children with him when he did so. There was some evidence that JR received an assurance from W that he would not drive the babysitter home. The men had a pact that if one of them knew that the other was going to drive while intoxicated and that children were involved, he would call the police. JR did not call the police when W left. W arrived home safely, but drove into the rear of a stationary vehicle after dropping his babysitter off. He was killed and his children were injured. W's wife and children sued JR and ER for damages for negligence. On a motion for summary judgment, the motion judge found that the defendants did not owe the plaintiffs a duty of care as social hosts in the circumstances of this case and that, if any duty of care existed, it ended when W arrived home safely.

The claims were dismissed. The plaintiffs appealed.

Held, the appeal should be allowed.

It was unclear from the motion judge's reasons whether she turned her mind to the issue of foreseeability as it applied to JR. There was enough conflicting evidence to suggest that there was a genuine issue requiring a trial regarding whether it was reasonably foreseeable that W would drive home and then drive his children and their babysitter while still under the influence of alcohol. There was also a genuine issue requiring a trial regarding whether JR, as a social host, may have invited W into an inherently risky environment that he controlled and created, thereby creating a positive duty of care. On the issue of foreseeability as it related to AR, the motion judge was incorrect when she concluded that there was no evidence that AR knew that W would be driving while intoxicated. There was, in fact, conflicting evidence on the point. A genuine issue for trial existed on the issue of foreseeability. With respect to the issue of proximity and AR, the unique circumstances of this case, including AR's awareness of the pact between JR and W, W's habitual heavy drinking on her property, and her knowledge of his alcohol consumption and intention to drive on the evening in question, could potentially implicate AR in the creation or control of an obvious and inherent risk. There was conflicting evidence on those issues. A trial was required to determine the question of proximity as it related to AR.

The motion judge also erred in finding that any duty of care that did exist would necessarily have ended when W arrived home safely from the defendants’ residence. In a social host liability case, there is no automatic rule that the duty of care expires once the intoxicated driver arrives home safely. The limits of the duty are determined by the facts of the case. The motion judge was obliged to explain why the duty of care ended on W's arrival home, especially since the evidence focused not on whether W would drive home, but on whether he would drive the babysitter home.

Posted under Accident Benefit News, Automobile Accident Benefits, Car Accidents, Drunk Driving Accidents

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