Premises Liability

During the year, many of us enjoy entertaining guests at our homes.  But when entertaining, it is important to keep your property in a safe condition so that everyone can enjoy a visit without anyone getting injured.  It is also important to understand your obligations if you will be serving alcohol to your guests.

A Safe Place to Entertain - Many conditions can render your property dangerous, and can cause someone to slip and fall, or become injured in some other way.  As a property owner or occupier, you have certain obligations to your guests to keep them safe from hazards on your property.  You must ensure that the condition of your property does not expose your guests to an unreasonable risk of harm by being in a dangerous condition.  A dangerous condition can exist where there is a failure to maintain or repair the property, where there is too much clutter, or where there is a faulty design.  As property owners/occupiers, we must remove any dangerous conditions.

The problem is that sometimes, we may not realize that the condition of our property has become dangerous.  As a property owner/occupier, we may know that our refrigerator leaks and that there is always water on the floor near it, but a guest in our home may not see the wet floor and may fall and injure themselves.  Examples of potentially dangerous conditions include a slippery floor, inadequate lighting that hides obstacles, construction materials lying around, items left on a stairway, and uneven flooring.  As a host, you must remove these dangers.  As a guest, you also have an obligation, that is, to avoid obvious dangers.

Serving Alcohol to Guests - If you are providing alcohol to your guests, you could be liable if your guest has too much to drink, and injures another person due to intoxication.  As a social host, you have a responsibility to keep your eye on the level of intoxication of your guests.  For example, if one of your guests is too intoxicated, and gets into a car accident and injures someone after leaving your house, the injured person may be able to hold you legally responsible.  The injured person could be in another vehicle, or could be the passenger of the intoxicated guest.  If your guest is visibly intoxicated and is going to drive, you should try to stop that person from driving; you can ask another guest to drive them home or call a taxi for them.  If the intoxicated guest is an adult, they cannot hold you legally responsible for their own injuries.  However, if the intoxicated/injured guest is a minor, then you, as the social host, can be held legally responsible.

Of course, all we want is to have a relaxing time with our guests, but it is also important to recognize the potential dangers that arise when hosting a social gathering.  Keep these things in mind when hosting your next party.

Broscious, Fischer & Zaiter is a multi-service law firm in Washington, NJ, serving clients in Warren, Hunterdon, Morris, Somerset, and Sussex Counties in New Jersey and in Hackettstown, NJ, as well as Easton, Allentown, Northampton, Lehigh and many other communities in Eastern Pennsylvania.

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"The Good Lawyer is not the man who has an eye to every side and angle of contingency,....but who throws himself on your part so heartily, that he can get you out of a scrape."

--- Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
Thomas P. Fischer is a member of The Million Dollar Advocates Forum recognized as the most prestigious group of trial lawyers in the United States. Membership is limited to attorneys who have won million and multi-million dollar verdicts, awards and settlements.
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