In the recent case of McCormick v. Plambeck, 2020 BCSC 881 (“McCormick”), the B.C. Supreme Court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim that two parents owed him a duty of care as social hosts as he was a minor who attended their home in the presence of liquor and/or drugs.
In McCormick, the 17-year-old plaintiff attended a party on Salt Spring Island hosted by a teenage daughter’s parents (the “Pearsons”). Mr. McCormick arrived at the party by foot and consumed less than six beers and some marijuana. He then left the party on foot with his friend, Mr. Plambeck. Mr. McCormick gave evidence that the next thing he remembers is being in the back seat of a vehicle that Mr. Plambeck stole from the Pearsons’ neighbour. Mr. Plambeck did not have a driver’s license and ultimately crashed the vehicle, resulting in fatal injuries to himself and serious injuries to Mr. McCormick. Mr. McCormick brought this action for damages and asserted the Pearsons owed him a duty of care not to let him become intoxicated on their property and to stop him from leaving their property in an intoxicated state.
In its analysis of foreseeability and proximity, the Court emphasized that the facts of this case could not be read in isolation; rather, they must be analyzed through the lens of the laid-back community of Salt Spring Island. The Court found it was common for parents on the Island to host teenagers and allow them to consume alcohol and use marijuana. It was also common for Island residents to leave their vehicles unlocked.
With respect to foreseeability, the Court was not persuaded that the plaintiff was in fact intoxicated when he left the party. Regardless, the risk of injury to Mr. McCormick was possible, but not foreseeable. In terms of proximity, it was reasonable for the Pearsons to assume Mr. McCormick would walk home from the party, given he arrived on foot. The Court also found the Pearsons could not have anticipated that a guest would steal a vehicle upon leaving the party, and thus the risk of theft was too remote to create a duty of care between the parties.
Even if Mr. McCormick had established the Pearsons owed him a duty of care, the Court found the Pearsons took reasonable steps to minimize the risk of harm to their guests and had followed the rules they established. In this case, the Pearsons hosted the party on the condition that they would collect keys from any teenagers who drove to the party, the party was to end at 1:00 a.m., and guests were expected to walk home, call their parents for rides, or get a ride from the Pearsons. Additionally, the Pearsons made a point to walk through the home from time-to-time to check in on the partygoers.
The Court also noted that while hosting a party where alcohol is consumed by minors is a breach of the Liquor Control and Licensing Act, R.S.B.C. 1996 c. 267, that fact alone did not demand a higher standard of care. Further, it did not render the Pearsons akin to commercial hosts. Ultimately, the plaintiff’s claim was dismissed as he could not establish the Pearsons owed him a duty of care, and even if that duty did exist, the Pearsons met the standard of care.
McCormick appears to be specific to its facts. In this case, it was not reasonably foreseeable that partygoers who arrive on foot would steal a vehicle upon leaving that party. However, Chief Justice Hinkson left open the possibility that, perhaps if the partygoers arrived by vehicle and left by vehicle, the outcome on liability may have been different.
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