There has been recent media discussion about possible lawsuits against Ontarians who host social gatherings over the holidays. Some news outlets suggest that if a guest contracts COVID-19 after attending your house party, you could be found liable in negligence as the host.
Our firm does not recommend breaching local and provincial laws and rules about social distancing and gatherings. It makes sense to take every step to keep you and your loved ones safe. Plus, the possibility of fines is real!
Can I get sued for giving someone COVID-19 at a Christmas party?
The injury lawyers at Auger Hollingsworth are doubtful that a flood of lawsuits against party hosts will be successful given the current state of the law and the widespread knowledge and warnings about the risks of gathering inside over the 2020 holiday season. Civil liability for COVID-19 from a private party? We think that is far-fetched for the following four reasons.
- Proving the Host is At Fault. First, how would you prove where you contracted the virus? Unless you are be able to prove that you had zero risk of exposure from anything else you did over the previous 14 days, how could you conclusively say that you got the virus at the party? Have you been to the grocery store? Outside? The gym? School? Has anyone you live with been any of those places? If other guests at the party also contracted COVID-19, how would you prove that they did not catch it from you? As the plaintiff in a civil law suit you have the burden to prove that someone else’s negligence caused your illness. We think that would be a very difficult burden.
- Ontario’s Laws Protect Social Hosts. Second, look at how the courts have treated social host liability in other contexts. For example, to date, party hosts who allow drunk guests to drive home from a party have not been found responsible for injuries caused by the drunk driver. From these cases, there is a strong indication that no liability will be found unless the host actually does something intentionally harmful. Following these precedents, it is unlikely that a party host would be responsible for someone’s COVID-19 infection unless the plaintiff could prove that the host intentionally withheld information that a guess was not feeling well.
- You Assumed the Risk of Illness. Third, Ontario has a defence called the “voluntary assumption of risk”. If a person engages in an activity, and they accept and are aware of the risks inherent in that activity, they cannot later complain of injury during the activity. Although the host will have the obligation to prove that the guest was aware of the risk and accepted them, in the context of the well-publicised risks of the pandemic, this burden would not be difficult to meet. This is a complete defence. If the host shows you voluntarily assumed the risk, you lose your lawsuit.
- You were negligent too. Even if you were to prove that the host was somehow responsible for your infection, you would also likely be held to be contributorily negligent. What that means is that you share the responsibility for your infection. A court would then decide what percentage you are at fault for your own situation. Your compensation would be reduced by that percentage. Given how well known the risks of social gatherings are, and that you chose to participate in the face of those risks, the percentage of your own responsibility would likely be very high.
If you have questions about your specific situation related to COVID-19 or other illness or injury, please contact us.