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Bars and Pubs Responsible For Drunk Driving Injuries

After golfing with his buddies, Peter tossed down 12 pints of beer, then got in his van, only to smash into David, who was out enjoying a bike ride. David suffered serious head injuries as a result.

Is Peter solely responsible for the accident that ruined David’s life? Or should the pub and Peter’s waitress share some of the blame?

David sued for money damages. The BC Supreme Court decided the pub – which was legally responsible for the waitress – was liable to pay one third of those damages. The waitress knew she was responsible to monitor bar patrons’ consumption and to quit serving those who became intoxicated. Once Peter became drunk, she could have called him a taxi, asked for his keys and insisted he not drive, or called the bartender or manager if necessary. As a last resort, she could have called the police.

Those who drive impaired are, of course, responsible for the consequences if their drunk driving causes an accident. But it’s also the law in Canada that commercial establishments – like restaurants, pubs and bars – can be sued if they over-serve liquor to patrons and don’t take appropriate steps to stop intoxicated customers from driving. If such a customer injures others (or himself or herself) in a drunk driving accident, the bar or pub may well share in the responsibility. This can be important for injured victims, especially if the drunk driver doesn’t have enough insurance to pay any damages the court orders (which in tragic cases, can run into millions of dollars).

More recently, the court decided a Vancouver-area hotel was 50% liable when a 19-year-old drunk driver (let’s call him Henry) plowed into and injured a group of five young people standing on a road. Henry had been drinking at the hotel’s pub, and staff knew he was impaired, but didn’t do anything to stop him from driving. Henry had staggered and slurred his speech in the pub. The hotel knew or should have known of his intoxication and the real risk that he might drive. Since it did nothing to prevent him driving, the hotel was 50% responsible for the injuries he caused.

Earlier this year, the BC Supreme Court dealt with the issue again (called “commercial host liability”). A pub tried to have a lawsuit against it thrown out. The lawsuit claimed the pub was partly responsible for a fatal accident caused by a drunk driver, Donna. Here, Donna didn’t drive away from the pub, but was driven home by her boyfriend, before she decided to drive somewhere else. So the pub argued that, even if it over-served Donna to the point of intoxication, she in fact got home safely and at that point, the pub’s responsibility ended. But the court said, no, there still needs to be a trial. If she left the pub with another equally drunk patron (her boyfriend), the pub may still have fallen short of its obligation, because arriving home with such a companion might not amount to a “safe” arrival home which would let the pub off the hook.

If you’re injured as a passenger in a car of a drunk bar goer or by an impaired driver (or even if you were the intoxicated driver who was hurt), you could have a case against the restaurant or bar that over-served and didn’t prevent the drunk driving from happening.

Janice Mucalov, LL.B. for Gertsoyg &Company. This column provides information only and must not be relied on for legal advice. Please call Gertsoyg & Company. at (604) 602-3066 if you have any questions or for legal advice concerning your particular case.

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