Friday, July 31, 2009

Liquor Liability - 2

In Childs v. Desmoreaux, [2006] 1 S.C.R. 643 at para. 19-20, McLachlin C.J. noted that the strict regulation of the sale and consumption of alcohol by the government imposes special responsibilities on those who profit from its sale and duties to reduce the risk associated with its sale:

"Second, the sale and consumption of alcohol is strictly regulated by legislatures, and the rules applying to commercial establishments suggest that they operate in a very different context than private-party hosts. This regulation is driven by public expectations and attitudes towards intoxicants, but also serves, in turn, to shape those expectations and attitudes. In Ontario, where these facts occurred, the production, sale and use of alcohol is regulated principally by the regimes established by the Liquor Control Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. L.18, and the Liquor Licence Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. L.19. The latter Act is wide-ranging and regulates how, where, by and to whom alcohol can be sold or supplied, where and by whom it can be consumed and where intoxication is permitted and where it is not.

These regulations impose special responsibilities on those who would profit from the supply of alcohol. This is clear by the very existence of a licensing scheme, but also by special rules governing the service of alcohol and, as noted above, special training that may be required. Clearly, the sale of alcohol to the general public is understood as including attendant responsibilities to reduce the risk associated with that trade."

McLachlin C.J. emphasized the expectations of the public and the means that commercial hosts have to meet those expectations through monitoring of alcohol consumption:

"…The public expects that in addition to adherence to regulatory standards, those who sell alcohol to the general public take additional steps to reduce the associated risks. Furthermore, patrons are aware that these special responsibilities have very real and visible manifestations. The imposition of a "cut-off" at the bar is understood, and expected, as part of the institutionalization of these responsibilities. Similarly, in many establishments, "bouncers" both enforce admission and assist other members of the staff who might have to deal with patrons who may have become intoxicated. These features have no equivalent in the non-commercial context. A party host has neither an institutionalized method of monitoring alcohol consumption and enforcing limits, nor a set of expectations that would permit him or her to easily do so."

Commercial hosts have an incentive to over-serve: it is more profitable than encouraging responsible consumption. The costs of over-consumption are borne by drinkers, taxpayers and third parties, while tavern keepers enjoy large profits:

"Third, the contractual nature of the relationship between a tavern keeper serving alcohol and a patron consuming it is fundamentally different from the range of different social relationships that can characterize private parties in the non-commercial context. The appellants argue that there is "nothing inherently special" about profit making in the law of negligence. In the case of alcohol sales, however, it is clear that profit making is relevant. Unlike the host of a private party, commercial alcohol servers have an incentive not only to serve many drinks, but to serve too many. Over-consumption is more profitable than responsible consumption. The costs of over-consumption are borne by the drinker him or herself, taxpayers who collectively pay for the added strain on related public services and, sometimes tragically, third parties who may come into contact with intoxicated patrons on the roads. Yet the benefits of over-consumption go to the tavern keeper alone, who enjoys large profit margins from customers whose judgment becomes more impaired the more they consume. This perverse incentive supports the imposition of a duty to monitor alcohol consumption in the interests of the general public."

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