Avoiding an Un-Jolly End to the Holiday Fun: What Property Owners and Hosts Need to Know about Premises and Host Liability

Emily J. Meister

The holiday season is a special time of year filled with visitors, get-togethers and mingling.  Most of us are already looking ahead to the joys of family and friends visiting, carolers, parties and yummy food aplenty.  Regrettably, the festivities of the season also open the door or create ripe opportunities for potential for liability.   Property owners and hosts need not, however, turn themselves into Scrooge; rather, personal liability can be avoided or greatly reduced simply by keeping in mind these potential issues and obligations:

  • Premises Liability: North Carolina property owners may be held liable for injuries occurring on their property regardless of whether the person is an invited or a random visitor, such as a caroler, a person seeking donations or the like.  To avoid such liability, owners must use reasonable care to protect third-parties upon their property.  This may require the owner to repair conditions which are likely to cause injury or to provide an adequate warning or notice of hidden dangers or defects that may not be readily visible or apparent to a visitor.
  • Animal or Dog Bites: Animals may be scared by the presence of new or unfamiliar people, scents and noises during the holiday season.  Animal owners may be liable for bites or other injuries caused by their pets if they had notice, either because of prior incidents or because of their type or breed, that the animal was potentially dangerous.
  • Alcohol: Hosts can be held liable for injuries to third-parties caused by their inebriated guests where (a) the host provided or served the alcohol, (b) knew or should have known that the recipient was intoxicated and (c) knew or should have known that the recipient would later be driving.  In addition to civil liability, a host that provides or serves alcohol to someone under twenty-one (21) years of age may also face criminal liability.
  • Donated Food: Rather than allowing un-used food to go to waste, consider donating such food!  North Carolina provides immunity from civil and criminal liability for food donated to a non-profit provided any that harm caused by the nature, age, condition or packaging of such food was not caused by the gross negligence, recklessness or intentional misconduct of the donating party.

 

With these guidelines in mind, all of the staff and attorneys at Black, Slaughter & Black, P.A. wish you and your family a happy holiday season!