Serving It RightServing It Right

BC’s Responsible Beverage Service Program

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Alcohol and the Law


Allocation of Fault

Responsibility off the premises

In recent years, the courts have decided that those serving alcohol may be held responsible for some of the damage done by intoxicated patrons to themselves or to the public. Some of the decisions have led to very expensive financial settlements or judgments.

The percentage of fault attributed to a licensee varies widely depending on the circumstances.

In the majority of the cases, blame apportioned to the licensee ranges from 5% to 25%.
However, the courts are becoming increasingly willing to apportion a higher degree of fault to licensees who do not meet their duty of care to patrons and the public.
In 2006, the British Columbia Court of Appeal upheld a lower court decision that assigned 50% of the liability to a bar when an intoxicated patron drove from the premises and injured several pedestrians.
For liability purposes, it does not matter whether the licensee or staff actually knew of the patron’s state of intoxication. The licensee has an obligation to have systems in place to monitor alcohol consumption and behaviour.
Even if only a small percentage of the total blame is assigned to the licensee, the licensee may still have to pay for all of the damages of someone injured by an intoxicated patron. This is because, under our law, if a plaintiff has suffered injuries caused by two or more people, and the plaintiff is not at all to blame for the injuries, then each of the people who caused the injuries is jointly responsible to pay all of the damages.

Consider this example: A patron is over-served and tries to drive home but hits and seriously injures a pedestrian. The court finds that the patron is 85% responsible, and the bar that over-served him is 15% responsible. The court also finds that the pedestrian did not do anything wrong. A judgment of $1,000,000 is awarded. If the patron cannot pay his 85% share of the judgment, the bar will have to pay the shortfall.