Today’s guest post comes from B.C. injury claims lawyer Erik Magraken

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, finding a Pub jointly and severally liable for a collision by a patron who was served alcohol to the point of visible intoxication.

In today’s case (Widdows v. Rockwell) the Defendant drove a vehicle and collided with the Plaintiff pedestrian.  The crash caused severe injuries, including brain damage.

At the time the Defendant was “quite literally, falling-down drunk.“.

Prior to the crash the Defendant was drinking at a local pub. In finding the pub jointly and severally liable for over serving a patron and failing to take reasonable steps to ensure he was not driving Mr. Justice Kent provided the following reasons:

[58]         Insofar as Rockwell’s consumption is concerned, I do not accept his evidence that he only consumed 2 1/2 beers at the pub.  Rather, I find as a fact that each of the co-workers bought at least one round of drinks for the other members of the group (and possibly more) and that Rockwell himself bought at least two rounds that included beer (for himself and Sauve), vodka (for Sahanovitch) and Fireball whiskey shooters (for all).  I find as a fact that by the time he left the pub to retrieve his truck, Rockwell had consumed at least five to six drinks, a combination of beer and liquor, and that he was significantly intoxicated by alcohol.  I also have no doubt, and I find as a fact, that the influence of alcohol on Rockwell was exacerbated by both a lack of food in the preceding 12 to 15 hours (and probably longer), and a high level of fatigue caused by extremely long work hours and inadequate sleep over an extended period of time.  His ability to drive safely was significantly impaired when he left the pub.

[59]         I recognize another possible theory of Rockwell’s intoxication is that he drank only two to three beers at the pub and in the two-hour period thereafter, he consumed substantial quantities of beer and/or liquor, whether at home or elsewhere, before the accident occurred.  While it certainly appears that Sahanovitch was an aggressive and irresponsible drinker of a sort who might engage in such behaviour, there is no evidence to support such a characterization of Rockwell.  When one subtracts the amount of time that it would have taken for Rockwell to drive home, this theory would require him to have consumed an enormous amount of alcohol in less than an hour, a proposition which is not consistent with his previous conduct and which, assessed from the perspective of robust logic and common sense, amounts to nothing more than wishful thinking and unfounded speculation on the part of Cambie Malone’s.

[60]         I am also satisfied however, and find as a fact, that Rockwell did indeed consume further alcohol after he departed the pub.  On the balance of probabilities, I find that this occurred at his residence and included consumption of vodka or other liquor in quantities more than Rockwell claims in his evidence.

[61]         It is not necessary to ascribe a precise figure to the amount of alcohol that Rockwell consumed after he left the pub.  It is sufficient to find that he was significantly intoxicated when he left the pub and that he became even more severely intoxicated through the consumption of additional alcohol before the accident happened…

[73]         In this particular case the affidavits from the pub employees all referred to the employees having successfully completed the “Serving It Right”, which is British Columbia’s mandatory “Responsible Beverage Service Program”.  This is a program sponsored by the provincial government and the hospitality industry which offers information about intoxication, as well as guidelines and suggestions for, as the tagline suggests, “responsible beverage service”.  Rather cleverly, none of the employee affidavits expressly disclosed the information and conduct guidelines suggested in the “Serving It Right” program.  Instead, all that was proffered was what was said to be Cambie Malone’s written “Policies and Procedures” which included the following paragraph:

It is your responsibility to ensure patrons do not become intoxicated while in the establishment.  You must refuse entrance and/or service to any person who is apparently under the influence of alcohol or drugs.  Moreover, persons visibly under the influence of drugs or alcohol may not be permitted to remain in the establishment.  You must refuse the person service, have the person removed and see that they depart safely.  Intoxicated persons must NOT be permitted to drive.  It is your duty to ensure that a safe ride home is used.  This is a crucial responsibility of everyone in the alcohol service industry.

[74]         While the standard of care expected of a commercial host will, in large part, be governed by the particular circumstances of any given case, there are several general standards of conduct that could well apply simply as a matter of common sense, including:

·       ensure there are adequate supervision, monitoring and training systems in place so employees know and abide by responsible serving practices;

·       ensure there is a sufficient number of serving staff on duty so that effective monitoring of alcohol consumption by patrons is possible;

·       ensure employees know the signs of intoxication and the various factors that influence intoxication (gender, weight, rate of consumption, food, et cetera);

·       inquire if the patron is driving and identify any “designated driver” for groups of patrons;

·       know how to estimate blood-alcohol concentrations and ensure any driver does not consume more than the appropriate number of drinks to stay on the “right side” of the legal limit;

·       display “tent cards” on tables, posters on walls and washrooms, and menu inserts with easy-to-read charts and information about blood-alcohol concentration;

·       ask apparently-intoxicated patrons if you contact anyone to assist them or if you can get them a taxi and, if necessary, offer to pay for it;

·       display posters advertising free ride-home services available in the neighbourhood; and

·       if the patron rejects alternative options and insists on driving, despite being urged otherwise, contact the police to seek assistance and/or provide whatever information might encourage their intervention.

[75]         None of these things occurred in the present case.  Rather, the pub’s employees utterly failed in abiding by their own employer’s directive that “intoxicated persons (e.g., Rockwell) must not be permitted to drive”.  I have no hesitation in concluding that the employees, and therefore Cambie Malone’s, did not meet the requisite standard of care in the circumstances of this particular case and that their conduct was accordingly negligent.

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