Homeowner’s Duty to Social Guests

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie – NJ Appellate Division Reaffirms a Homeowner’s Duty Owed to Social Guest

In an unpublished opinion decided on July 5, 2017, the New Jersey Appellate Division reaffirmed the case law regarding the duty of a social host to warn a guest as to dangerous conditions on residential property. The Court, in Parella v. Compeau, et al., Docket No. A-4090-15, upheld the trial court order granting summary judgment and dismissing the plaintiff’s personal injury complaint.

The Plaintiff alleged that the homeowners negligently breached their duty of care by failing to warn her of a dangerous condition in their home.  During a holiday gathering in the home, Plaintiff tripped over a dog, which was sleeping in a hallway adjacent to the doorway of the dining room.  The Plaintiff fell, breaking a wine glass she was holding in her hand and cutting her finger.  Her injury required surgery to remove embedded glass.

In affirming the trial court, the Appellate Division recited the case law as set forth in Endre v. Arnold, 300 N.J.Super. 136, 142 (App. Div. 1997), which recited the duty owed by a host to a social guest.  The Endre Court cited Hopkins v. Fox & Lazo Realtors, 132 N.J. 425, 434 (1993), which held that “The duty is limited. A host need only warn ‘of dangerous conditions of which [the host] had actual knowledge and of which the guest is unaware’.” The Court also quoted Berger v. Shapiro, 30 N.J. 89, 97-98 (1959), which held that a “host need not undertake to make improvements or alterations to render his [or her] home safer for those accepting his hospitality than for himself.” Id.  Further, “[t]he host is under no duty to inspect his or her premises to discover defects which otherwise might not be known to the casual observer.” Id.Finally, where a “guest is aware of the dangerous condition or by a reasonable use of his facilities would observe it, the host is not liable.” Id.

The Appellate Division agreed with the trial court that the mere presence of the dog in the hallway did not create an unreasonable risk or a dangerous condition triggering the homeowner’s legal duty to warn guests walking in their home. Further, the Court reasoned that there was evidence that Plaintiff and the other guests present were aware of the dog’s presence.  As a result, the Court determined that Plaintiff could not sustain a personal injury action against the homeowner and affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the complaint.

If you have been injured in a private residence and have questions about whether or not you may have a valid claim for premises liability against the homeowner, we would be happy to discuss the details of your case.