Can a Hotel Be Held Liable for Over-Serving Alcohol?
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A recent Saskatchewan decision addressed a claim that a hotel was liable for serving a man excessive amounts of alcohol at a bar located on its premises prior to his death in a fatal car crash. 

Man Dies in Car Crash After Leaving Hotel

A 19-year old man’s common law spouse commenced a claim on her own behalf and on behalf of the beneficiaries of his estate following his death in a fatal head-on collision with a semi-trailer on December 5, 2015. 

The claim alleged that on the evening of his death, the man had been at a restaurant and bar adjacent to the Whitewood Inn, a hotel in Saskatchewan, where he was served excessive amounts of alcohol before getting behind the wheel of a car.

The spouse named as defendants the company that operated the hotel, the owners and operators of the restaurant and bar located in the hotel, and two servers employed in the bar. 

The hotel, as a landlord, had entered into a lease with the bar as tenant on September 15, 2015. The lease was subsequently terminated in January 2017. The spouse’s claim was commenced in November 2017. 

The essence of the spouse’s claim against the hotel was that it was or had been the operator and/or occupier of the bar and had failed to train and/or supervise staff, such that the man was over-served on December 5, 2015. As part of the claim, it was assumed that the man’s car accident had been caused or contributed to by the alcohol served to him at the bar.

Court Dismisses Spouse’s Claim Against Hotel

In the present decision, only the liability of the hotel was at issue.

The court first set out to determine whether the hotel had been a joint occupier with the tenant of the bar where the over-serving allegedly occurred. It held that the hotel had not been the occupier of the bar as it pertained to hiring staff, training staff, supervising staff, obtaining a liquor license, and most importantly, ensuring patrons were not over served. Therefore, the court determined that the hotel had not been the occupier of the bar as alleged in the claim as of December 5, 2015 when the tragedy occurred and could therefore not be held liable as such.

Additionally, the court rejected the spouse’s claim that the hotel was liable under The Automobile Accident Insurance Act. Under the legislation, a party may bring a claim against a third party who, through an act or omission, caused non-economic loss. However, the court determined that because the hotel had not been a permit holder or occupier of the bar on the date of the accident, it had not committed an act or omission that could result in such liability. 

The court then turned to the spouse’s argument that, even if the hotel had not been the holder of the permit in 2015, the permit was transferred to the hotel in 2017 and, therefore, it became the licensee upon the transfer and assignment and was for all intents and purposes responsible for the operation of the bar from and after December 1, 2015. The court noted that there did not appear to be any statutory provision or case law that addresses the issue. Ultimately, however, the court determined that the hotel could not be responsible for conduct occurring more than a year before it became the permit holder and dismissed the argument.

As a result, the spouse’s claim against the hotel was dismissed in its entirety.

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Hotels generally have a large number of employees in a vast range of service areas: from food service and housekeeping staff to customer service, sales and marketing, and executive level employees. Unsurprisingly, this comes with a diverse range of employment law and related issues, including numerous obligations on the part of the hotel owner and a substantial amount of risk and liability.

At Baker & Company, our Toronto hotel lawyers have been advising hotel owners on employment law, labour law, human rights law, and occupational health and safety matters for over 30 years. We represent owners and franchisees across a wide range of hotels, both small and large and franchised and non-franchised, across the province.

At Baker & Company, we take the time to meet with you and understand your unique needs in order to offer holistic hotel solutions to the diverse problems you may encounter. We rely on our broad base of experience and expertise to provide exceptional legal guidance. Call us at 416-777-0100 or contact us online for a consultation.

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