Say someone has a few too many drinks at the bar one night. Then, they are charged with impaired driving after they get into a car accident on their way home. While the drunk driver will be the primary target for criminal and civil charges, the bar that served them too much alcohol could also be held responsible. The concept of holding serving establishments liable for drunk driving accidents is known as dram shop law.

Dram shop laws outline the civil liability of bars, restaurants, and other commercial establishments that serve alcohol. The name derives from the dram, a unit of measure by which spirits were traditionally sold. In Ontario, dram shops may be partly liable for the actions of customers. As a result, victims of these actions may be able to pursue legal action against the restaurant, bar, or tavern.

Potential Dram Shop Violations

Dram shop laws establish the liability of liquor-serving commercial establishments. If a customer is subsequently charged with driving under the influence (DUI), the dram shop may be partly liable if they are deemed to have been negligent in the serving of that alcohol.

There are four main circumstances where this may apply:

  • If the establishment sells and serves alcohol, even if the customer is visibly intoxicated
  • If the establishment sells and serves alcohol to a minor
  • If the establishment sells and serves alcohol without a valid liquor license
  • If the establishment sells and serves alcohol outside of permitted hours

If the customer subsequently causes harm to a third-party victim, like in a drunk driving accident or in a street fight, the establishment might be held accountable, at least in part. As such, bars and similar establishments have a legal responsibility to “cut off” any customers who are visibly impaired.

Are Social Hosts Liable for Guest DUIs?

While they are named for commercial establishments that sell alcohol, Ontario’s dram shop laws also apply to private social functions. Some other jurisdictions limit their dram shop liability statutes to commercial properties. However, in Ontario, liability can extend to social hosts too.

A common example might be a dinner party at a friend’s house. That friend acts as a social host for the gathering, and they may be partly liable for the actions and consequences of their guests even after they leave the party. As with commercial establishments, social hosts have a legal responsibility to refuse to serve more alcohol to someone who is already visibly intoxicated.

What’s more, the host may also be held liable if the guest serves themselves too much alcohol while at the hosted location. This includes alcohol that the guest brought to the hosted event themselves, as well as any alcohol provided by other guests, and not just alcohol that was provided by the host.

A person qualifies as a social host under Ontario dram shop laws if:

  • They do not charge guests for the alcohol being consumed.
  • They do not have an employment relationship with guests.
  • They condone the service of alcohol on the premises that they either own or have reasonable control over.

Like commercial businesses, homeowners can be held liable for anything that happens on their property. They may also be held liable if they see a guest participating in a potentially dangerous activity and do not stop them. For example, if the social host sees a visibly intoxicated guest get in their car and drive away, dram shop laws may say that the host is condoning this action. Thus, they may be held partly liable if that guest subsequently causes harm as a result of their intoxication.

Criminal Charges and Civil Charges

It is important to distinguish between criminal and civil charges in the context of DUI accidents and dram shop laws. The individual who drives under the influence of alcohol, regardless of where they bought or were served that alcohol, may face criminal charges. They may also face civil suits for any damage they may have caused.

It is less likely that a third party, like the bar or social host who served the alcohol, would face criminal charges. That said, the third party may be liable for part of the payment for damages suffered by victims as a result of the intoxicated individual. In Ontario, victims have the right to take legal action against a third party that provided alcohol to the impaired person. Typically, the statute of limitations for most personal injury claims is two years.

Call Us for a Free Consultation

Have you been charged with a DUI after a crash in Ontario? Whether or not the victim has a claim against the bar or social host who served you, you need to focus on building the best possible defence against the serious charges you face. Call our office toll-free at 1-800-699-0806 or fill out our online contact form to set up your free meeting and quote today. We serve clients throughout Ontario.

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