Will a homeowner be held responsible if invited guests of drinking age injure themselves while intoxicated without the homeowner present?
A woman owns a house in the state of Maine. She allows her son, 23 years of age, to visit the house for the weekend with five of his friends, all of whom are also 23 years old. During the visit, 1 of the 23 year-old visitors (not related to the homeowner) breaks his arm after consuming multiple alcoholic beverages over the course of the night. The injured visitor was over the legal limit for intoxication. My question is, will the woman who owns the house be held responsible for the injury to the visitor, even though he is of legal drinking age?
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It is possible. Homeowner liability cases are based on a few details:
1) Is the injured party an invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser. In this situation, the victim is a social guest of the homeowner, and there is a licensee. "The homeowner is usually liable only for willful or wanton injury to a licensee."
This would sound like the intoxicated individual is on their own. However, the second component to this case is:
2) Negligence. When the victim broke his arm, was it because of some negligence of the homeowner? A loose floorboard? An exposed pipe of some kind? If the court finds that the homeowner is negligent in some way, then she could be responsible.
All of this would depend on the exact wording of the Maine statutes and on the other circumstances surrounding the breaking of the visitor's arm (how, where, etc.).
According to Maine law, a homeowner owes a duty of reasonable care to all persons lawfully on the property. Maine has actually disregarded the common law distinction between a licensee and invitee. Rather, a person is either lawfully on the premises (a guest) or is unlawfully on the premises (a trespasser).
If a guest is injured at the property due to the homeowner's failure to exercise reasonable care in keeping the premises safe, then the homeowner will likely be liable. Trespassers are not afforded any such rights by the law.
A key question to consider is whether the guests were prohibited from any parts of the premises. For instance, if the injured person sustained the injury while snooping around in the wine cellar after breaking the padlock to get in, he may likely be deemed a trespasser. If the circumstances show that the guest did not have a right to be in certain areas, then access to those areas would be a trespass.
A link to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court case is below.
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