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Risks involved for students hosting off-campus parties

Aaron Hall | Interrobang | | October 1st, 2007

Thinking of throwing another huge kegger' this weekend? Complete with beer bongs, beer pong, drinking games and keg stands?

Although off-campus parties can garner some long-lasting fun memories, and some even more memorable hangovers, students need to realize that there is risk involved with hosting a party.

“I preach strongly for adult fun,” said Fanshawe College and the University of Western Ontario's Housing Mediation Officer Glen Matthews. “But along with adult fun comes adult responsibilities and adult liability.”

Being a provider of alcohol and serving as the occupier of an event where alcohol is being consumed are two potential ways how an individual may get sued in the case of a tragic event.

Potential liability begins if a person serves, provides or makes alcohol available to another individual that that person knows or should know is intoxicated.

Even if a person does not provide any alcohol, that individual may become liable if alcohol-related injuries occur on the person's property. The term “occupier” includes anyone in control of property who has the power to admit or exclude entrants.

“If students host a party there is a good possibility that they will be held liable,” Matthews said. “There is a potential for you, your roommates and the guarantors on your lease to become liable.”

Many legal cases have occurred in recent history that have involved young people and alcohol related incidents. The Superior Court ruled in 2002 in favour of the hosts of a New Years party that Desmond Desormeaux attended in Ottawa in 1999.

Desormeaux, an alcoholic with two previous drunk-driving convictions, left a party intoxicated and shortly after leaving caused a head-on-collision with 18-year-old Zoe Childs, subsequently rendering her a paraplegic and killing her boyfriend.

Although Desormeaux was charged and sentenced to 10-years in jail, Justice James Chadwick of the Ontario Superior Court threw out Childs' $6 million suit against the hosts of the party.

Justice Chadwick ruled that even though the hosts should have known Desormeaux could have caused an accident, he felt that this “prima facie duty of care” was negated because of the implications of imposing a duty of care against social hosts.

“A finding of liability against the social hosts would place an inordinate burden on all social hosts,” Justice Chadwick wrote.

Childs appealed that ruling to the Ontario Court of Appeal, which dismissed her appeal.

“I cannot accept the proposition that by merely supplying the venue of a BYOB party, a host assumes legal responsibility to third party users of the road for monitoring the alcohol consumed by guests,” Justice Karen Weiler wrote in response to the 2004 appeal.

“It would not be just and fair in the circumstances to impose a duty of care.”

Any fee-paying student at Fanshawe College that has any concerns regarding their responsibility as a host of a party, or any other questions related to legal services, can take advantage of free legal support with Community Legal Services.

Community Legal Services is a non-profit organization funded by Legal Aid Ontario and The University of Western Ontario, providing free legal assistance to people who cannot afford a lawyer. The clinic is staffed by Western Law students working under the supervision of Review Lawyers. The Fanshawe Student Union subsidizes all involved costs for students utilizing the service.

The areas of law include; Landlord and Tenant Law, Criminal Law (summary offences), Charter of Rights challenges, Small Claims Court representation, Public Legal Education, Student Appeals, and Affidavits and notarial services.

Students can contact Community Legal Services directly at (519) 661-3352 or they can schedule an appointment that can take place on campus in the Student Centre office SC2001.
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