Legal Insights / Civil Litigation / What Is Duty of Care and Why Is It Important Around The Holidays?

What Is Duty of Care and Why Is It Important Around The Holidays?

Dec 19 2019

Duty of Care refers to the legal obligation people have that ensures those on their premises or within the immediate vicinity can have a reasonable expectation of protection from harm as a result of the actions of either themselves or of others. While the term applies to virtually all legal cases, it is commonly associated with the operation of a motor vehicle, the serving of alcohol and the generally accepted responsibilities of home and business owners.

During the Holidays people take part in numerous social events, either through work or with family and friends. For this reason it’s important to be aware of a legal term called Duty of Care.

For Drivers

In the case of the operation of a motor vehicle, there is an expectation that the operator will drive responsibly, with due care and attention, and will take precautions to ensure he/she is doing everything he/she can to limit or reduce potential risk to those either in the car or in the immediate vicinity. A breach of Duty of Care occurs when it’s been determined that driver’s negligence has played a significant role in a motor vehicle accident, which could have been the result of factors such as speeding, reckless driving or driving while under the influence of alcohol or banned substances. In those situations, it is reasonable to assume that others would be harmed as a consequence of these actions.


Duty of Care can also apply to drinking establishments (i.e. bars/pubs) or employers who host social gatherings where alcohol is served. Everyone has a legal obligation to take steps to ensure no harm comes to others as a result of excessive drinking by employees or guests. They must be prepared to responsibly assess a person’s perceived level of intoxication and then decide if that person should be prohibited from being served additional drinks and, if necessary, removed from the premises.

Servers and hosts

Servers and hosts may also be called upon to find alternate arrangements to ensure guests arrive home safely and not allowed to drive while they are perceived to be impaired. If a commercial host does allow a person believed to be impaired to get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle that is later involved in an accident resulting in harm to either the driver or other members of the general public, they could be found legally responsible. The courts have already set a precedent for employers in the case of Jacobsen vs. Nike Canada, where Nike was found liable for 75 percent of an estimated $2.7 million in damages to its employee who drove home from work while drunk.


For homeowners who may be hosting parties or other events during the holidays, Duty of Care obligations extend beyond legal responsibilities for serving alcohol and making sure guests don’t drink and drive. Homeowners must also ensure they mitigate the potential for injuries to others around their home. This can include a number of preventive measures ranging from keeping pathways clear of snow, ice or debris to avoid slips or falls, to installing fencing around a pool to keep guests, or even stray children, from accidentally falling in.

While the holiday season is the ideal time to celebrate with family, friends or co-workers, it’s important to be aware of your Duty of Care obligations and the legal responsibilities we have to ourselves and others.

If you want to find out more about Duty of Care and how you reduce potential risks, contact RDM’s Civil Litigation team today.

Sources: ICBC Claim InfoBC LawsServing it Right

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