Commercial Host Liability – Pub liable for accident caused by intoxicated patron


In the recent decision of Widdowson v. Rockwell, 2017 BCSC 385,  the Supreme Court of British Columbia found the owners of the Cambie Bar & Grill (the “Pub”) and a patron who left the Pub “significantly intoxicated” by alcohol, jointly and severally liable for the severe injuries suffered by the plaintiff. The plaintiff was struck by a truck operated by the patron.  The court allocated 25% liability to the Pub for the plaintiff’s injuries.

The patron and his co-workers spent about two hours drinking at the Pub one afternoon. The patron then drove himself and his co-worker from downtown Vancouver to the patron’s home in Port Moody. The patron and his co-worker spent about 30 minutes at the patron’s residence consuming more alcohol.  The patron then left his residence to drive his co-worker home at approximately 5:00pm and lost control of his truck and struck the plaintiff.  At trial, it was determined that the patron’s blood alcohol content was .334 at 5:00pm.

The issue before the Court was whether the Pub had any legal responsibility for the plaintiff’s injuries.

In British Columbia, commercial host liability is determined by principles of common law, and specifically,  the tort of negligence.  The court found that the Pub had fallen significantly short of meeting the standard of care required of a commercial host and that the Pub’s conduct was negligent.  Mr. Justice Kent set out several standards of conduct that could apply as a matter of common sense, including, but not limited to, adequate monitoring by employees, inquiring as to whether patrons are driving and ensuring employees know the signs of intoxication. However, Justice Kent also noted that the standard of care expected of a commercial host will, in large part, be governed by the particular circumstances of each case.

The Pub argued that their duty of care had ended when the patron arrived safely at his residence. After  applying causation principles, Justice Kent rejected the Pub’s argument and provided, in part, as follows:

Ought it really matter whether the pub-induced intoxication triggers a fall while walking home as opposed to a fall once the drunken patron has successfully crossed the threshold into his house?  Does it make any sense that liability can be imposed for alcohol-caused injury to third parties before arrival at home but not if same injury occurs after leaving the home a few minutes later?

Justice Kent did note that the delivery of an intoxicated patron into the hands of a sober and responsible person might arguably permit the elimination of otherwise indeterminable liability. However, Justice Kent did not substantively address that issue as it did not occur.

The decision underscores how important it is for insurers to consult with the restaurants and bars they insure to confirm that the restaurants and bars have reasonable systems in place to allow them to meet the standard of care of a commercial host.  This decision obviously highlights the consequences of a commercial host failing to meet its standard of care.