In a recent case, decided on July 5, 2017, Plaintiff appealed a summary judgment dismissal of her personal injury complaint surrounding a host who had allegedly negligently breached their duty of care.
What exactly is the law surrounding social host liability?
The law is well established on the limited duty that a host owes to a social guest surrounding the conditions of the host’s property. Citing the case of Hopkins v. Fox & Lazo Realtors, the law establishes that, “A host need only warn of dangerous conditions of which the host had actual knowledge and of which the guest is unaware.” This means that a host does not have a duty to conduct an inspection of his property to discover defects which otherwise might not be known to the casual observer. Essentially, a host’s liable does not extend to situations where a guest’s reasonable use on the premises would observe a dangerous condition.
In the case of Parella v. Compeau, the Plaintiff, Jennifer Parella, complained that the homeowner’s sleeping dog constituted a dangerous condition. Ms. Parella was never warned of the sleeping dog when she was invited over to the Compeau’s home for a Christmas dinner. However, Defendants contend that the dog’s presence was not unknown because the Plaintiff knew that there were two dogs present in the home, and could have reasonably anticipated a dog to be sleeping on the floor. The dog was actually resting on the floor inside the hallway, which made it even easier to be seen. Furthermore, the hallway was well lit and there was no evidence that the dog was moving.
Despite the rather unusual set of facts that this case sets forth, it is clear that Ms. Parella sustained serious injuries. As she fell, the wine glass she was holding broke and sliced her finger. Weeks later she required treatment by an orthopedic specialist who surgically removed remaining fragments of glass in her hand.
The Court determined that in this case, the facts showed that the dog was not hidden from view and that the Plaintiff was aware of the dog in the home. Additionally, the injuries sustained by Plaintiff are not a result of the dog’s actions. The Court reiterated that "Hosts are not required to improve or alter their home in order to render it safer for a guest than for themselves.” An analysis of the law surrounding host liability seems to indicate that legislatures are reluctant to make social hosts liable for ordinary dangers that they live with in their home. However, it is important to note that unreasonable risks or dangerous conditions would warrant a warning from the host.
Every case is very fact specific, and despite the bizarre circumstances that led to Ms. Parella’s lawsuit, she sustained very serious injuries. If you have been hurt on someone else’s premises, whether private or public, call the Law Office of Druckman & Hernandez to find out your rights. Having handled thousands of personal injury claims, our attorneys know how to fight for you. Our number is 908-353-5850.