Avoiding Accidents: Keeping You and Your Guests Safe This Holiday Season

glasses of sparkling wine set up for holiday party guests

The holiday season is a time to get together with family, friends, or coworkers to celebrate, whether at small gatherings or elaborate functions.

Holiday parties are already underway and typically ramp up until New Year’s Day. It can be a busy and fun time, but caution should be taken, both as a host and a party-goer.

We all know about the dangers of impaired driving. Still, despite increased awareness and stricter laws, an average of 10 federal criminal charges and provincial short-term licence suspensions are laid every hour in Canada for alcohol or drug-impaired driving, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

It is not just impaired driving that can spoil the party. A slip and fall at a holiday celebration can also have long-lasting consequences. Companies have a legal obligation to ensure the health and safety of their employees, not only at the workplace but during and after business-related social events, including holiday parties.

Though companies have a legal obligation, those hosting a private gathering at their homes are also responsible for the welfare of their guests. Hosts may not be criminally responsible for the actions of their guests, but they could be found civilly liable.

Hazards Can Go Unnoticed.

When people plan a party, the focus is often on ensuring there is enough food and drink and that the decorations convey the proper mood, and safety may be an afterthought. Certainly, no one wants to see their guests suffer an injury, but accidents do happen.

Public Health Ontario reports that falls can impact people of all ages and can occur in any setting, whether it is at home, the office, or a party hosted at a restaurant. In Canada, these accidents are the leading cause of injury-related hospitalizations among older adults.

Soft tissue injuries are common in those who fall, and problems can arise with diagnosing these injuries since they do not show up in an X-ray.

Winter means snow and ice and we all need to be more cautious of where we step. However, the potential to suffer a significant injury due to someone else’s negligence can happen at any time of the year.

Driveways, sidewalks, and porch steps can present a daily hazard if a property owner or occupier fails to take precautions. Watch for:

  • slippery surfaces, such as ice, wet leaves or other material on pathways;
  • potholes;
  • broken or missing handrails on stairs;
  • uneven pavement or steps, surface cracks or gaps in sidewalks or pathways;
  • debris; and
  • plant growth.

Inside the home or business, keep an eye out for:

  • uneven flooring or sloping surfaces;
  • changes to flooring (hardwood to carpet);
  • slippery floor surfaces resulting from cleaning products/methods;
  • spills or clutter;
  • loose or unanchored carpeting; and
  • loose cords and cables.

Safety Must Be a Priority for the Property Occupier.

Under Ontario’s Occupiers’ Liability Act, the occupier of a property must ensure that all visitors are reasonably safe when visiting. The occupier is not necessarily the owner. It can include the person who is in physical possession of premises, the one who has control over the condition of premises or the activities that occur there, or the one who has control over persons allowed to enter the premises.

To prove liability if you are hurt while visiting a property, you must show there was negligence on the part of the occupier. You will need to demonstrate that they created the condition that led to your injury or that they were negligent in identifying and correcting a problem in a reasonable time.

For example, was the homeowner negligent in clearing the ice from the front steps? Did the business owner place a sign warning of a wet floor? Was lighting at the venue adequate?

However, it is important to note that just because you have been injured does not necessarily ensure success in a lawsuit. The duty of care expected from a defendant in a slip and fall case is not perfection and courts will assess whether the occupier made reasonable efforts to prevent an accident.

You also bear responsibility for your own safety if you were acting recklessly on someone else’s property and get injured. The same principle applies if you are wearing high-heeled shoes on an icy driveway and slip and break your leg. You may still be able to sue but you may share responsibility for your injury. Courts will consider any failure to act cautiously when awarding a damage settlement.

Alcohol Slows Reaction Times.

This is the time of year when people literally get into the holiday spirit. And while there is nothing wrong with a toast to friends and family, drinking to excess can have lasting consequences.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) states that people often fail to realize that “critical decision-making abilities and driving-related skills are already diminished long before they show overt signs of intoxication.”

Alcohol decreases inhibitions and judgment and can lead to reckless decisions, according to the NIAAA. The specific effects of alcohol vary from person to person and there is no way to sober up fast, they state. A person’s reaction times get slower, and behaviour becomes poorly controlled and sometimes even aggressive as more alcohol is consumed.

It is important to consider how alcohol fits into your plans. For example, if you are hosting a party where physical activities are planned, such as skating or tobogganing, wait until after to serve drinks.

Hosts Must Take the Appropriate Steps to Ensure Safety of Their Guests.

While party guests are ultimately responsible for their actions when drinking or using cannabis, hosts still have a duty to demonstrate that they took reasonable steps to avoid a mishap. One option is to host an alcohol or cannabis-free event. If alcohol is to be served, consider hosting a brunch. Typically, the earlier in the day the event is held, the less alcohol is consumed, although that is not a hard and fast rule.

Offer a variety of alcohol-free drinks such as coffee, sparkling sodas, water or “mocktails.” Also provide guests with an assortment of food and snacks, which can slow the absorption of alcohol. If it is an office party, employers may want to consider a cash bar and hire licensed bartenders to help monitor drinking.

Guests should be reminded about the dangers of impaired driving and hosts should promote responsible alcohol consumption.

To cut down on impaired driving, hosts should:

  • encourage people to leave their vehicles at home;
  • have designated drivers;
  • never over-serve guests;
  • check with people as they are leaving to ensure they are safe to drive; and
  • provide information for alternative transportation or offer taxi chits.

If you are hosting a party in your home, prepare for an overnight guest or two. If you are having an office Christmas party, consider arranging discounted stays at a nearby hotel. The last thing you want to risk happening if having one of your guests involved in a car accident caused by impaired driving.

Call Us if You Have Been Hurt.

While common sense and a little planning can help keep you safe this holiday season, it is still possible to suffer an injury because of someone else’s negligence.

A holiday slip and fall could affect your ability to work. However, you may be entitled to damages for pain and suffering, loss of earnings, past and future loss of income and out -of-pocket expenses not covered by your insurance company.

There are deadlines when it comes to filing a lawsuit, so it is important to act in a timely fashion and to get the compensation you deserve. At Gluckstein Lawyers, our trusted ream of personal injury lawyers is here to help. If you think you have a personal injury claim, contact us and we will answer your questions while providing the experienced legal advice you need.

The initial meeting is free and without obligation on your part. We never charge legal fees until your claim is settled.


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