Defendant Was Not Her Intoxicated Sister’s Keeper – NJ

When a social guest, family member or not, becomes intoxicated what are the potential boundaries of liability for the host? New Jersey has a social host statute that provides the parameters of when a host may be held liable for the actions of a visibly intoxicated guest who was provided with alcoholic beverages. N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.6. However, this statute is limited to accidents caused by the negligent operation of a vehicle.

So what obligation does a social host have when a guest is injured – not in an auto accident but on another’s premises after leaving the social host’s property? In Schultz v. Gallagher, http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/opinions/a2050-10.pdf, the question of just how far common law principles of negligence can go was considered by the New Jersey Appellate Division in a case involving a serious injury to a plaintiff in a pool accident.

The twenty-one year old sister of the social host defendants drank approximately ten beers of the case she brought to their home. She then left her sister’s property with two other guests and went swimming at their home. As she jumped in the pool, she hit her head funny and experienced some immediate mobility issues. The homeowners failed to recognize her distress as requiring medical attention. When she telephoned her sister for help, they concluded that she was intoxicated and just needed to sleep it off.

In reality, the plaintiff sustained spinal injuries that ultimately required three surgeries and resulted in permanent cervical injuries. It was alleged that delay in treatment exacerbated her injury.

Within this framework, the appellate division addressed the question of whether under common law, a social host could be held liable for failing to render aid to an intoxicated guest who was injured after she left the premises. Additionally, the court considered whether the familial relationship should have bearing on the duty owed. Based upon public policy considerations, the court declined to expand liability or extend it in these circumstances even despite the family ties.

For more information, contact Denise Ricci at dricci@wcmlaw.com.