Alcohol and the Law - Teaching Resources

Below are some resources for teachers to use in their classrooms. We intend these resources  to be a springboard for ideas, and encourage teachers to adapt these resources as appropriate to suit their students’ needs.

A) Social Host Liability

Scenarios: Understanding how courts determine liability in alcohol-related cases

First, some legal definitions:
Liability: the court’s assignment of the legal responsibility to pay for the costs resulting from an event that causes injury

Tort: an act that injures another, and for which a party can be held legally responsible 

Legal responsibility: the obligation to compensate the victim for the injuries suffered

The injured party must take the matter before the court, and establish that the defendant owed him or her a duty of care. The court will determine what the nature of the duty is and whether there has been a failure to fulfill that duty. The court must then determine whether the accident was the fault of the person who breached the duty. The next stage is to decide that the injured person suffered a loss for which monetary compensation would help return them to the position they would have been in had the event not occurred. 

If these facts can be proven, the courts will award damages based on the nature of the injury, the loss suffered and what it will cost to enable the victim to resume as normal a life as possible. 

It does not matter that the defendant did not intend to injure the victim, or that the injury was the result of a careless or negligent act. Both intentional and unintentional acts can result in liability. In other words, we can be held legally responsible for our acts whether or not we intended to cause harm.

In some situations, we can be held liable for the acts of others. If an employee injures someone while in the course of his or her employment duties, the employer may be held vicariously liable for those injuries. If a parent neglects to train, control or adequately supervise a child, the parent might be held responsible for the child’s injurious behaviour. A hotel, bar or restaurant that over serves liquor to a patron can be held legally responsible for injuries that result from that patron’s drunken behaviour. The individual or company having to pay the damages may have no personal responsibility for them, but must pay because they have assumed some responsibility for the person who caused the harm.

So how do the courts determine legal liability in cases involving hosts and alcohol? To understand how, students can use the Childs v. Desormeaux case in which the Supreme Court of Canada established in 2006 when liability will be incurred by someone other than the person who actually caused the injury. Students can then apply their learning from this case, by trying to determine liability in other similar cases.

The Supreme Court often develops test questions that lower court judges use to help make a decision that is consistent with the law. After reading the Alcohol and the Law Backgrounder, students can go to the Supreme Court Report on the Childs v. Desormeaux case, or the excerpts provided below, to find the questions that the justices developed in this case.

The questions were:

  1. Was the injury reasonably foreseeable?
  2. Was there proximity or a connection between the duty to foresee and the injury?
  3. Are there good reasons (policy considerations) why the person should have taken extra care to foresee the possibility that another might be injured?

Once they understand the questions in the test, students can apply the test to a number of situations based on actual court cases to determine if liability can be established. Teachers can consider leading this as an interactive activity – by dividing the class into small groups, assigning one scenario to each group, and asking each group to discuss and then present or role-play their scenario and decisions to the rest of the class.

1. Restaurant: A dinner guest accompanied by several friends has several drinks in the bar before sitting down to order his meal. He orders another drink before the meal is served and several beers during the course of the meal. After eating, he lingers, consuming several more drinks. The server tallies up the bill, and realizes the customer has had many drinks. She asks the group how they are getting home and the guest’s friends assure her that they will be okay, suggesting that a sober member of the party will drive. In the parking lot, the intoxicated person insists on driving and they all get into the car. The group is involved in a serious accident. Who should be held liable for the injuries? 

2. Home dinner gathering: A person hosts a dinner gathering at her home, during which she serves alcohol. Guests come and go all evening – some drink at the dinner party as well as at a nearby hotel. One guest is hit by a car (driven by someone who was not at the party) on the road between the dinner party and the hotel. Who should be held liable for his injuries?

3. Unplanned teen drinking party: A group of teens show up at one of the teen’s home after midnight, and the group proceeds to party. The teen wakes his parents briefly to tell them that he has brought some friends home, but that he has everything under control so they can go back to sleep. Several hours later, several of the teens get into a car driven by a girl who has been drinking. The car goes into a ditch and one of the teens is seriously injured. Who should be held liable? What if the parents in this case customarily allowed teens to party on their property, but in the past had always made sure the kids got home safely?

4. Workplace: An employer serves beer and pizza to a crew working late to set up a display for their upcoming exhibition. After work, one of the employees stops at a pub for a few more drinks before going home. During the drive home, he crashes his car into a lamppost and is seriously injured. Who should be responsible for his injuries?

5. Hotel bar: A driver who had been drinking at a nearby hotel begins his drive home when he swerves his truck to miss a car stopped on the roadside. He plows into a group of people standing on a sidewalk talking to the driver of the parked car. Who should be held responsible for the injuries? How would your answer be impacted if, just prior to the incident, someone had warned the bartender and serving staff that their patron was drunk and was about to get into his truck to drive home, and the bartender and serving staff did nothing to try to restrain him?

6. Sporting Event: A university student hosts a pre-football game keg party in anticipation of the big game. One of the guests drinks excessively before heading to the game with the rest of the party. As the group walks up the bleachers, the intoxicated individual stumbles and falls. He lands on a woman attending the game and seriously injures her. Who is responsible for the woman’s injuries? Who is responsible for the intoxicated person’s injuries?


1. Restaurant: The restaurant would be liable for the injuries. It has a duty not to over-serve its patrons (which is based on statutes and regulations, not social host cases). The friends would not be liable because they did not host the party. They made a foolish decision by getting in the car and that will mean the damages that are awarded are significantly reduced, but the bar remains primarily liable for over-serving a patron and not taking adequate care to ensure he left safely.

2. Home dinner gathering: The person who was driving the car and hit the pedestrian is liable. The fact that a person is intoxicated when hit by a car does not mean the driver can escape liability. If the person who drove the car was at one of the parties, then the hotel or party host will be liable in addition to the driver. The party host served alcohol and so did the hotel. This makes them at least partially responsible for the acts undertaken by the guest.

3. Unplanned teen drinking party: In the first part of this scenario, the driver would be responsible because the parents could not have known what was going on. In the second part, the parents would be liable because they set the precedence of hosting parties and taking responsibility for their guests.

4. Workplace: Both the employer and the bar would be liable for the injuries. The employer hosted the party and did not make sure that everyone could get home safety. The bar must serve alcohol responsibly and make sure patrons can get home safely.

5. Hotel bar: The driver is responsible for his actions. The bar is also liable because it must make sure patrons can get home safely.

6. Sporting Event: The liability would be shared between the person who drank too much and the person who hosted the keg party. The host served alcohol and therefore has some responsibility for the actions of the intoxicated guests.

Below are some excerpts from the Childs v. Desormeaux case that help to establish the test that lower court judges may use when deciding similar cases. See the Backgrounder for further clarification of these points.

The justices applied the Anns test – a series of questions posed in a landmark Canadian case that establishes to whom we owe a duty or how far our duty extends. They declared that:

“Social hosts of parties where alcohol is served do not owe a duty of care to public users of highways. The proximity necessary to meet the first stage of the Anns test has not been established. First, the injury to C was not reasonably foreseeable on the facts established in this case. ...Second, even if foreseeability were established, no duty would arise because the wrong alleged is a failure to act or nonfeasance in circumstances where there was no positive duty to act. …A social host at a party where alcohol is served is not under a duty of care to members of the public who may be injured by a guest’s actions, unless the host’s conduct implicates him or her in the creation or exacerbation of the risk. …Absent the special considerations that may apply in the commercial context, when such a choice is made by an adult, there is no reason why others should be made to bear its costs. Lastly, with respect to the factor of reasonable reliance, there is no evidence that anyone relied on the hosts in this case to monitor guests’ intake of alcohol or prevent intoxicated guests from driving. While, in the commercial context, it is reasonable to expect that the provider will act to protect the public interest, the same cannot be said of the social host, who neither undertakes nor is expected to monitor the conduct of guests on behalf of the public.” [24?32] [38?47]

The justices continue to explain the extent to which the rule should be applied by referring to the decision in Odhavji Estate v. Woodhouse, 2003 SCC 69 (CanLII), [2003] 3 S.C.R. 263, 2003 SCC 69, where:

“the Court affirmed the Anns test and spoke, per Iacobucci J., of three stage-one requirements: reasonable foreseeability; sufficient proximity; and the absence of overriding policy considerations which negate a prima facie duty established by foreseeability and proximity: para. 52.  Some cases speak of foreseeability being an element of proximity where “proximity” is used in the sense of establishing a relationship sufficient to give rise to a duty of care: see e.g. Kamloops. Odhavji, by contrast, sees foreseeability and proximity as separate elements at the first stage; “proximity” is here used in the narrower sense of features of the relationship other than foreseeability. There is no suggestion that Odhavji was intended to change the Anns test; rather, it merely clarified that proximity will not always be satisfied by reasonable foreseeability. What is clear is that at stage one, foreseeability and factors going to the relationship between the parties must be considered with a view to determining whether a prima facie duty of care arises. At stage two, the issue is whether this duty is negated by other, broader policy considerations.”

Suggested follow-up activity: Brainstorming responsible and preventative measures

As a follow-up to the above scenarios or other activities, or as a stand-alone discussion, students can brainstorm responsible and preventative measures that they and other social hosts can take in order to avoid any harm and legal liability. Teachers can lead this activity in various ways, depending on the needs of the students and class. For example, students can brainstorm in small groups, discuss together as a class, or create posters for the school.

Some possible measures include:

  1. Don’t drink, or limit your own consumption of alcohol in order to track that of your guests.
  2. Know your guests. It is much easier to track the changes in behaviour of those you know.
  3. Serve all drinks yourself and avoid self-serve bars to track and monitor your guests' consumption. Consider hiring a bartender trained in alcohol service.
  4. Have plenty of non-alcoholic choices.
  5. Serve lots of food that have carbohydrates, protein and fat – salt encourages more drinking and sugar intensifies the impact of alcohol.
  6. Meet, Greet and Repeat – meet and greet all your guests as they arrive in order to determine if they have had anything alcoholic to drink before arriving. If the party is an open house or cocktail format, repeat the process as guests leave.
  7. If a guest is intoxicated, encourage her or him to give you her or his car keys (if s/he drives). Ally with a friend to assist in persuading the intoxicated person to take a cab.
  8. Keep the phone numbers of cab companies handy and tell the guest that a cab has been requested – don’t give her or him the option to refuse.
  9. If the guest is quite intoxicated, keep that person with you until s/he has sobered or can be left with a sober responsible person.
  10. Only time will sober the person, not additional fluids or food. Offering a spare bed is a good recourse.
  11. If the person refuses to give the car keys or spend the night at your house, call the police. This may seem drastic, but it could be a choice between having a temporarily upset friend or far more tragic consequences.

B) Drinking and Driving Resources

iMinds resources
University of Victoria’s Centre for Addiction Research of BC provides health education resources to BC schools, called iMinds. iMinds supports a holistic approach to prevent substance use related harms and promote mental health. There are iMinds modules for Grades 6 through 10, each module comprising of six lesson plans. iMinds also provides additional resources for teachers, teacher training and ongoing web support.

While the content centres on substance use, iMinds intends for students to gain a better understanding not only of issues involving alcohol and other drugs, but also of health. iMinds is designed to be delivered using constructivist educational techniques, which stem from a belief that the learners are the makers of meaning and knowledge. Thus teachers are not required to have knowledge or training related to behavioural science, substance use or mental health. Rather, their role in delivering the iMinds lessons is that of a facilitator of learning.

RoadSense resources
The Insurance Corporation of BC (ICBC, the provincial Crown corporation that provides universal auto insurance to BC motorists), provides learning resources for teachers called RoadSense. The BC Ministry of Education has recommended these materials. They support road safety learning outcomes, emphasize good decision-making skills, and the Grade 8, 9 and 10 materials deal particularly with impaired driving issues due to alcohol and drugs. ICBC speakers also tour BC high schools between March and May each year.

Student-led activities
ICBC also provides a page for students, with various suggestions for fun activities and events that they can lead to raise awareness of road safety in their schools or community.

These suggestions range from short activities to day-long events. For example, Hands Up is an interactive activity that encourages students to think critically about how their actions affect others, and to come up with responses to issues they might encounter with an impaired driver.

Additional resources
The BC Ministry of Education provides a list of school drug and alcohol programs in BC, including the Ministry’s recommended learning resources, links to programs in BC schools and in the community, as well as links to other provincial and international programs.