The primary cause of death for 16 to 25 year olds is motor vehicle accidents, and alcohol or drugs are a factor in 55% of these events. Teenaged drivers are many times more likely to be involved in a fatal car crash than experienced drivers. Young drivers lack both driving and drinking experience and are more likely to take a risk; in combination, these factors may have catastrophic consequences. An accident may not necessarily be fatal to have a disastrous outcome; accident victims may suffer from fractures, spinal injury, brain injury, paralysis or other injuries that are severe and/or permanent.
Even a small amount of alcohol is shown to impair one’s judgement while driving. In Ontario, the maximum legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for fully licenced drivers is .08 (80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood). Driving with over .08 is a criminal office, but drivers who register a BAC from .05 to .08 face penalties as well. However, there is zero tolerance in Ontario for new motorists and drivers under the age of 22 (.00 BAC). For drivers aged 19 and under, there are also some restrictions in the number of young passengers they can carry. The idea behind these laws which took effect in 2009 is to protect novice drivers, who are essentially disadvantaged by their inexperience, as well as their passengers and everyone else on the road. A MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) Canada representative was quoted as saying that this new legislation will save more lives than any other provincial legislation.
Serving alcohol to minors is illegal in Ontario, with the exception of parents who serve alcohol to their children inside the family home. There is potential for civil litigation, however, if someone gets hurt while under the influence of alcohol that was served in your home, whether or not it was a minor or adult. Hosts are advised to review their insurance policy to determine whether illegal acts, like serving alcohol to minors including your teenage children and/or their friends, may void your policy.
An action was brought against the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) when a passenger was injured in a car crash because the underage driver had been drinking alcohol purchased at a local LCBO. The single vehicle accident occurred in August 2002 near the town of Hensall Ontario, when the defendant, (then) 16 year old Bradley Young, broke into his parents’ home and took their car without permission. Along with his two passengers, 18 year old Alex Youmans and 17 year old Danielle Shukster, Mr. Young crashed into a tree. The plaintiff, Ms. Shukster, alleged to have sustained severe injuries including a traumatic brain injury that impaired her memory and her ability to provide information to her legal counsel.
Young was charged with dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm and with taking a motor vehicle without consent, under the Criminal Code. He was not charged with alcohol related offences, although the police and accident reports indicated he had been drinking. Shukster initially made claims against Young, Young’s mother and three different insurance companies (including Shukster’s parents’ insurers). Because Young was uninsured, Young was seemingly liable under the Motor Vehicle Accident Claims Act, R.S.O. 1990, c.M.41. which establishes a Motor Vehicle Accident Claims Fund (‘the Fund’) as a source of minimum recovery for individuals injured in accidents where there is no insurance coverage.
Litigation progressed slowly for various reasons, principally because Young initially mounted his own defense and thus did not facilitate activation of ‘the Fund’. It wasn’t until August 2009 that Shukster discontinued her claim against everyone except Young. Since the time of the accident, Shukster asserted that alcohol consumption was a cause of the accident. At Young’s examination in September 2009, during questioning by her lawyer, Shukster apparently first heard that Young had obtained the alcohol he consumed prior to the accident by using a ‘fake ID’ supplied by Youmans’ to purchase liquor from the LCBO store in Hensall. In September 2010, Shukster moved for an order to amend her pleading to add the LCBO as a defendant, alleging that the LCBO was negligent in selling alcohol to a minor (Young).
The LCBO requested a summary judgement to dismiss Shukster’s claims on the basis of two grounds: 1) the plaintiff’s claims are barred by the statutory limitation period, and 2) the evidence is insufficient to substantiate the claim and as such, has no chance of success. At the 2012 summary judgement, it was held that although the action against the LCBO commenced 8 years after the accident and was significantly beyond new or old limitation periods under the Limitation Act, there was reasonable doubt that Shukster would have known where Young obtained the alcohol (as Young initially lied saying Youman had given him the alcohol) as well as extenuating circumstances, such as the fact that Shukster was a minor at the time of the accident and her memory had been affected by the injuries. Thus, on the basis of the limitation period, it was concluded that a full appreciation of the evidence and issues were needed to make a final determination for this claim, which is therefore a triable issue.
The experienced LCBO employee who served Young the alcohol had no recollection of the event; however, her account of standard LCBO policy for checking the identification of anyone who appears to be under 25 was consistent with Young’s account of this event. Young testified that he was unshaven and tall for his age at the time of the purchase, and that he looked ‘to some degree’ like the picture on the ID. He also admitted to being asked a number of questions about himself, including his address and date of birth, before being permitted to make the purchase. With regards to the issue of the LCBO’s negligence in serving alcohol to a minor, the court held that the evidence does not support negligence on the part of the LCBO, as there was no reason to doubt either Young’s purported age or the authenticity of his identification. The court concluded that Shukster’s claim against the LCBO had no realistic chance of success and her claim was dismissed accordingly.
This case provides a clear message to parents who can play a part to reduce the likelihood that their teenagers may drink and drive. Parents should arrange transportation or accommodation for older children who attend parties where alcohol may be served as well as for their own guests who may have overindulged. Through discussions about safe drinking practices with older children, serving sensibly in the home and otherwise setting a good example in terms of safe alcohol use, adults encourage wiser choices in their children. Through responsible behaviour, everyone can ensure their own safety and that of guests, and also limit their liability in the case of an accident. Rastin and Associates offers expertise and extensive experience in pursuing claims where negligence due to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs may have resulted in an accident causing severe personal harm. If you or a loved one was injured due to the negligence of another person, whether due to drinking and driving or any other form of carelessness, Rastin and Associates will facilitate just compensation for your personal injuries.