With the summer in full swing, many people will see their social calendars filling up with fun events such as parties, gatherings, events, and the like. While summer is a time for fun, we need to remember that regardless of whether we are hosts or guests, safety is always an important factor that all of us need to consider. Always be aware of your surroundings, especially if you are in a new or unfamiliar place. In a recent case, a college student was attending an event at an off-campus house. While on the fourth floor of the house, she sat on a piece of flex board covering a raised skylight opening. The board gave way, and the student fell nearly 20 feet through the house before eventually sliding down the stairs and landing on her head. She suffered a T12-L1 spinal dislocation with transaction of the cord and a C4-5 disk herniation, resulting in paraplegia. She underwent spinal surgery and incurred $1.2 million. She now uses a wheelchair and requires assistance with many activities of daily living. Her projected future medical expenses and life-care costs are estimated at about $6.2 million. She sued the property owners, alleging they were negligent and reckless in allowing the skylight opening to be covered with a thin piece of flex board. She also alleged that they were negligent in failing to repair the condition or warn visitors of the hazard and prevent visitors from accessing that area.
The plaintiff also sued the tenants of the property, alleging that, under the terms of the lease, they were required to notify the landlords of any conditions that were dangerous or in need of repair. The tenants acknowledged this was a dangerous condition, that it existed for a full year before the incident, and that they never told the landlords about it. The owners of the home argued that the skylight opening was nailed shut with a 3/4-inch plywood board during building renovations in the 1980 and they were unaware that the original plywood board had been removed. They also maintained that the tenants failed to warn them of the hazardous condition and argued that the lease specified that the tenants had a duty to warn them if an issue existed. The homeowners also argued that the tenants were in exclusive control and possession of the building and were therefore solely responsible. They alleged that the plaintiff was intoxicated at the time of the fall, with a blood-alcohol content of 0.26%, and that she had marijuana in her system. The parties settled the case during pretrial mediation for $11.6 million, paid by various insurers for the homeowners and the tenants.
This case is a clear example of the dangers that lurk for the unwary social guest. Hidden defects, sunken living rooms, broken exterior concrete steps, and doors that conceal basement steps are all common examples of hazards for guests. If you are a homeowner, make sure your house and property are in good condition and do not pose any safety hazards for people coming onto your property. If you are a guest at someone’s home or property, always look before you sit in an area or walk into an area. If you have been injured on someone else’s property as a result of their negligence, you should contact legal counsel right away to discuss your situation.