Social Host Liability: Establishing a Duty of Care

Social host liability is an area of law that is still being established. So far the courts are reluctant to find a prima facie duty of care. Without establishing a duty of care, negligence cannot be proven and damages cannot be awarded.

In McCormick v. Plambeck, 2022 BCCA 219, the BC Court of Appeal upheld the trial judge’s decision. The trial judge found that the plaintiff had not established a duty of care on the social hosts. It was not reasonably foreseeable that the plaintiff who arrived on foot and left on foot, would be injured as a passenger by the dangerous operation of a motor vehicle.

The plaintiff sued the estate of the driver, the Pearsons (owners of the party house), and the owners of the vehicle in negligence. By the time the case reached the trial, the plaintiff had settled his claims against the driver’s estate and the owners of the Subaru vehicle. The main issues at trial were whether the Pearsons owed the plaintiff a duty of care, and whether they had breached that duty by allowing him to make his own way home when the party ended.

The trial judge concluded the plaintiff could not establish a prima facie duty of care under the first part of the Anns/Cooper test. The question is properly focussed on whether foreseeability was present prior to the incident.  The trial judge found that it was not foreseeable that they would suffer personal injury or that they would steal a car and drive it unsafely. The plaintiff left the Pearsons’ home with his friend on foot.

Having concluded that a prima facie duty of care had not been established under the first part of the Anns/Cooper test, the judge declined to consider the second part of the test.

However, the trial judge did consider the standard of care. The judge found that the social hosts had met the standard of care. “[T]hey had met the requisite standard by taking keys away from those who drove to the party, asking attendees who needed a ride to call their parents, driving those who needed rides, allowing some attendees to stay over, and letting those who walked to the party walk home from the party”.

McCormick v. Plambeck is consistent with other case law regarding social host liability. So far it has been difficult for plaintiffs to establish the first part of the test for negligence. However, it does not mean that social host liability can never be established.



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