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Maciej Pieoksz looks at the issue of personal injuries that are a result of alcohol in bars, tavers and other establishments.  Maciej also gives tips to consumers and hosts on how to protect themselves. You are at a party with friends.  You are drinking casually but are being encouraged to drink more and drink heavily from the alcohol provided by your host.  You are drunk by the time you get to a bar for $1 shots. You manage to stay in the bar for several hours before being ejected.  While outside, you stumble into the street and are struck by a car.  That car then veers into the oncoming lane, colliding with another vehicle.
The person hosting the party, the social host, and the bar serving you alcohol, the commercial host, could be, in part, responsible for your injuries and the injuries caused by the resulting collision.

Responsibility for Guests and Patrons

Society’s decreasing tolerance for encouraging drinking, drinking and driving, consuming alcohol to excess, or leaving an inebriated person to fend for themselves, is reflected by the courts willingness to hold taverns and bars, commercial hosts making money from the sale and service of alcohol, responsible for the safety and actions of their guests and patrons. It is reasonably foreseeable that an injury will result from excessive drinking.  Therefore, a commercial host who over-serves or encourages excessive drinking may be responsible for the safety of his guests. 
A commercial host can also be found to be partially responsible for the actions of their guest if that guest’s actions cause an injury to a third party.  The responsibility of the host to a third party is especially important in instances where a drunk driver has injured, for example, a motorist, a passenger in the vehicle, or a pedestrian.  When serving alcohol, a host accepts the duty to reasonably insure that their intoxicated guests do not harm others.  If they fail to satisfy that duty, they may be responsible for the consequences.
Social hosts do not earn a profit from serving people beyond the point of intoxication so the courts treat them differently.  Social hosts can create a place where people meet, visit and drink alcohol, whether the alcohol is provided by the host or brought to the event by the guest.  The courts have concluded that guests who leave the event and harm themselves or others remain responsible for their own actions in this context.  However, the courts have warned that social hosts can be responsible to their guests after they leave the party if circumstances warrant.  For example, a host who knowingly continues to serve alcohol to a visibly drunk person knowing they will be driving home could be held responsible for that person’s resulting injuries or the resulting injuries to a third party. 
Finally, whether a commercial host or a social host, you could be held responsible for harm that people suffer while on your premises drinking alcohol. If your guest or patron falls down the stairs drunk, gets in a fight or is incidentally injured by the roughhousing of others the host will probably be held responsible.
Assessing Responsibility

Hosts can increase the possibility of being responsible for injuries to their guests, patrons or third parties in a number of ways, including:

  • serving someone visibly intoxicated;
  • serving alcohol to an intoxicated person and then ejecting them;
  • failing to determine the patron’s condition before ejecting them;
  • serving someone when there is a reasonable expectation they will drive a vehicle (e.g. when the tavern or party is located in a rural area or near a major highway);
  • inability to monitory alcohol consumption (e.g. using a cash bar); and,
  • serving to an individual known to be irresponsible

Hosts can reduce their responsibility for injuries to their guests, patrons or third parties by:

  • not admitting an already intoxicated person;
  • monitoring the consumption of alcohol by avoiding cash bars, and relying instead on table service or the sale of drink tickets;
  • taking care of patrons unable to look after themselves due to intoxication;
  • ensuring the patron uses public transit or taxis;
  • ensuring the patron sobers or is handed over to the care and custody of a sober and responsible individual;
  • ensuring the patron arrives home safely and in the custody of sober person;
  • preventing the intoxicated patron from driving on the roadway; and,
  • taking all legal proactive action to prevent an intoxicated person from harming himself or others, including calling the police.

Damages in a Lawsuit

Courts typically find a person injured after drinking alcohol to be primarily responsible for their own actions and injuries.  However, if that person was drinking alcohol at a commercial establishment, the courts have found the host can be at least partially responsible for the resulting injuries.  The injured patron can then recover damages from the host in the amount of that host’s responsibility.  For example, if the host is found 15% responsible for the injuries, then the patron can recover 15% of their damages from the host.  This assessment of responsibility can significantly reduce the compensation an injured patron can recover.  However, a substantial monetary award may still result in cases of catastrophic injury.

The partial responsibility of a host is especially significant in instances where a third party has been injured by the actions of a drunken patron (e.g. stepping into a roadway and causing a collision or drunk driving).  The law allows the third party to potentially recover 100% of their damages from any party that is found to be at least partially responsible for their injuries.  Therefore, if a host is found at least 1% responsible for the injuries to a third party, and there is no other source of money from which an injured person can be compensated, the host must pay all of the injured person’s damages.

If have questions about your legal rights or would like more information on this topic please contact Maciej Piekosz at maciej.piekosz@siskinds.com or 519-660-7718 for a free consultation.

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