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Commercial Host Liable for Drunk Driver Hitting Pedestrian

Widdowson v. Rockwell 2017 BCSC 385 provides guidance on: 1) commercial host liability; and 2) shows the importance of careful affidavit drafting.

In this case, the plaintiff sued a drunk driver and the pub where the driver had been drinking. The court found the pub liable for over-serving the driver. Even though the driver went home between his time at the pub and the accident, the pub was still liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.

1) Commercial Host Liability
Since legislation in British Columbia does not impose civil liability on commercial hosts, liability is determined by principles of common law and negligence. Previous judgments suggest commercial hosts have a duty of care to see intoxicated patrons get home safely. Further, commercial hosts have a general duty of care to third parties who might reasonably be expected to come into contact with the intoxicated patron. A commercial host cannot escape liability if a patron does not appear drunk.

This case highlights that a defendant’s negligence does not need to be the sole cause of the injury, but needs to be part of the cause to be held liable. Since the pub’s breach of duty contributed to the driver’s intoxication, they were held 25% liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.

2) Careful Affidavit Drafting
The affidavits provided by the pub employees were given little weight because they contained identical paragraphs written by a lawyer and did not represent the employees’ own words. During cross-examination, the employees provided evidence that contradicted their affidavits about their usual practice with intoxicated patrons. This highlights the importance of carefully drafting affidavits to increase the probability they will be accepted by the court.

Case summary by Leah Robinson