Potential Liability for Injuries at Graduations, Weddings, and Celebrations

Parties and graduationsIn June 2003, 13 party goers at a third floor outdoor party in Chicago plunged to their death. More than 50 people were injured when the wooden porch collapsed and propelled attendees to the ground. It is the worst porch collapse in the city’s history. Wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits were filed against the building owners for negligent design, construction and and maintenance of the porch.

The owner’s insurance company tried to claim it was not the owner’s fault, but instead the fault of the party goers for crowding onto the porch. They lost that argument, so after 10 years of litigation, the case finally settled for more than $16 million. Most of the funds came from the owner’s insurers.

Many people are hosting events in their homes this time of year, ranging from graduation parties, wedding celebrations, bar mitzvahs, pool parties, and other gatherings. It is likely that the more guests attending, the greater the chances are that someone will be injured. Homeowners or renters may be personally liable for injuries their guests sustain while on their property if the injury was due to the homeowner’s negligence and their insurance is insufficient.

It is important to note that while negligent conduct is covered under a homeowner’s policy, if the injuries are due to intentional conduct, the policy will not provide coverage. For example, if someone slips and falls down the stairs, homeowner’s insurance will cover the damages. If the homeowner pushed the person down the stairs, there will be no coverage under the policy. Insurance does not cover intentional conduct.

What Does Liability Mean?

Being liable for an injury means that someone’s carelessness of negligence was the cause of the injury. If so, they are responsible to pay the injured person’s:

  • Medical bills.
  • Rehabilitation costs.
  • Lost wages.
  • Emotional trauma due to the accident.
  • Court costs if you are unable to settle the case out of court and you lose the case in court.

Personal liability insurance, whether part of a homeowner’s policy or a renter’s policy, generally covers the damages, but there is a cap on how much the insurance will pay. The cap is the insurance policy limits. If you plan on hosting a celebration and inviting a large group of guests, you should confirm that your policy is in effect and the amount of your policy limits. You may need to increase your policy limits if you have just $100,000.

Of course, you do not expect anyone to be hurt, but accidents happen: The caterer does not wash the lettuce thoroughly and guests get salmonella; your normally friendly dog bites a guest; a guest trips and falls on a piece of food left on the floor or stumbles over uneven outdoor walking surface such as the lawn.

When Damages Exceed Policy Limits

If a guest suffers a major injury, your policy limits may be insufficiently low. One situation that provides an example of damages exceeding insurance policy limits occurred at the end of the school year when a teenager had an end-of-school-year party. The teenager’s parents kept alcohol in an unlocked cabinet in their basement where many of the underage students began partying. At one time, the host’s mother walked through the basement and observed students doing shots, but she did nothing about it.

About two hours later, the mother walked through again and observed guests throwing up in the bathroom. She rounded up the 50 guests, told them the party was over and sent them on their way even though she knew some of them were intoxicated and were driving. As was foreseeable, an intoxicated 16-year old driver ran into a tree and her passenger, who was ejected, was seriously injured.

The parents were liable for their negligence in allowing the children to drink alcohol and sending them off to drive when the parents knew the students were intoxicated. The medical bills and other damages for the injured girl ran up to $240,000. The homeowner’s policy limit was just $100,000. Thus the damages exceeded the insurance policy limits. The homeowner thus faced personal financial responsibility for the amount of damages in excess of the policy limits..

If you were injured while attending a party or celebration at someone’s home, contact one of our premises liability attorneys at Meyer & Blumenshine for a free case evaluation. Call us today.