Social host liability

Posted Saturday, March 17, 2007 by Ed Harper

Property owners owe a duty of care to their guests to exercise reasonable care. This is subject to much discussion on what was/is reasonable care.

A property owner must either warn or create a safe environment for their guests. Washington case law states the following: “This standard of care imposes a ‘duty to exercise reasonable care’ toward licensees where there is a known dangerous condition on the property which the possessor can reasonably anticipate the licensee will not discover or will fail to realize the risks involved.” Younce, at 667. If a duty exists, it is met by making the condition safe or by giving a warning of the danger. Younce, at 668.

When someone comes onto your land, they are deemed to be “licensees”. A licensee is “a person who is privileged to enter or remain on land only by virtue of the possessor’s consent”, Restatement (Second) of Torts 330, and includes a social guest. Younce, supra.

Washington courts have interpreted this to mean that an owner of a premises has possibly breached their duty of care to the licensees on their property by supplying alcohol to their guests who were minors. In Younce, supra at 667-69, our State Supreme Court applied the Restatement 342 standard of care where the minor plaintiff was injured when she was struck by a car driven by another minor on the defendants’ property where minors were drinking alcoholic beverages at a high school “kegger” party.

So, where does that leave you? My suggestion is to not serve alcohol at any employment or church related function. There are too many concerns for the host as well as a church to allow alcohol to be served to one’s guests.

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