With the holiday season upon us, and 2014 quickly fading into the new year, many of us are planning our annual parties, nights of food, drink and lively conversation. But what happens if one of your guests is injured, or you're hurt in a slip and fall at work?
Yes, in many cases. If you were invited onto another person's property, whether it be a private residence, office or business, thaat property's owner owes you a "general duty of care." If they fail to remove, fix or warn guests of hazards, you may be able to hold the party's host accountable for your injuries.
Note that this right, to sue a negligent property owner, is generally not extended to situations in which a hazard was obvious to the average observer. In that case, it was the injured person's duty to recognize the danger and stay away.
With that being said, your legal options may change depending on what type of party you attend.
Beyond the simple definition of a property owner's duty to care that we described above, the question of alcohol complicates the legal issues surrounding gatherings and festivities.
In Nassau County, it is illegal for any person over 18 to serve alcohol to a minor, under the age of 21, in their home. Violate the law and you could face a misdemeanor charge with penalties of a $250 fine. This new "Social Host Law" expands on New York's state-wide prohibition of serving alcohol to minors, but most judges would have interpreted the State Law similarly anyway.
Social hosts are also banned from serving alcohol to "visibly intoxicated" adults, and can themselves be held at least partially accountable for the negligent actions of drunken guests. New York State is actually fairly tough in this regard. If you are injured by an overly-intoxicated guest, you may be able to sue the host who served that person alcohol.
For a great review of social host liability in New York State, read this paper from the legal theorists at Touro College.
According to the Wall Street Journal, 90% of companies polled in a recent survey said they were planning to throw holiday office parties, "the highest percentage since the Great Recession" and one that's risen from 74% just last year. Waning employee morale is a major concern this year, and with balance sheets optimistic, most American employers are trying to get back in the swing of things.
And contrary to the boozy events we typically imagine, 20% of companies said their parties will be dry, while only 43% were planning evening gatherings. Less alcohol and more light may be a blessing for the balance-impaired, but even the tamest get-together can result in a slip and fall.
But if you fall and injure yourself at an office party, you're probably looking at a workers compensation claim, rather than a personal injury lawsuit, so long as attendance was mandatory. If your presence is not truly voluntary, then the party falls within the scope of employment, whether or not any work is getting done. But whether or not a party is mandatory can be tricky to figure out. In a legal context, explicit requirements are obviously not voluntary. But if your boss "encourages," "expects" or "looks forward" to your attendance, that would probably be construed as mandatory, too. So much for workers comp.
In the event that you really didn't need to go, but went anyway, you may have a lawsuit. But only if your employer's negligence actually contributed to your slip and fall. If they failed to tidy the office, and obstructions were not obvious, you might have a case. And if the property owner's negligence caused your accident, you may have one, too.
As with any business establishment, the more than 2,600 bars and nightclubs in New York City are partially responsible for the safety of their patrons. Most obviously, this includes most causes of slip and fall accidents, including wet bathroom floors and improperly maintained stairs. Again, these dangers only create liability when they are not immediately apparent to an average observer.
Because they profit from the sale of alcohol, these establishments also come under the regulation of New York State's "dram shop" statute: section 11-101 of the New York General Obligations law. Under this law, bars and nightclubs are prohibited from serving alcohol to "visibly intoxicated" patrons. While the definition of "visible intoxication" is open to dispute, bars can be held partially liable for the actions of their drunken guests.
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