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February 16, 2011

Tavern Liability - Section 39 of the Liquor Licence Act

Dickerson v. 1610396 Ontario Inc. (Carey’s Pub and Grill), 2010 O.N.C.A. 894 (CanLII)

Section 39 of the Liquor License Act creates civil liability for commercial establishments selling liquor. Section 39 reads as follows:

39. The following rules apply if a person or an agent or employee of a person sells liquor to or for a person whose condition is such that the consumption of liquor would apparently intoxicate the person or increase the person’s intoxication such that he or she would be in danger of causing injury to himself or herself or injury or damage to another person or the property of another person.

In Dickerson, the Court of Appeal had occasion to comment on the standard of care set out in section 39. The Court disagreed with the plaintiff’s assertion that the standard is breached by simply overserving a patron to the point of intoxication. The Court held that section 39 requires a risk assessment by the commercial establishment. The plain and ordinary meaning of the section describes the level of overservice that attracts liability because of the risk it creates. The overservice must produce the patron’s intoxication or increase it sufficiently that the patron will be in danger of injuring another person. Section 39 requires only that the risk of injury be reasonably foreseeable, not that the type or kind of injury actually suffered be reasonably foreseeable. In addition, this section requires only that there be a reasonably foreseeable risk of injury to another person, not that the person injured be within the category of persons foreseeably at risk.

Those involved in tavern liability cases before juries may want to review this decision as a useful precedent for the charge to a jury in a tavern case, as well as the appropriate questions to be put to the jury.

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