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NJ Court Upholds Dismissal Letting Sleeping Dogs Lie

July 6, 2017

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Holiday gatherings bring together family, friends, pets, and joy... until someone gets hurt. Then the specter of social host liability raises its head.  Unlike businesses which have a duty to invitees to make their premises reasonably safe, social hosts are required only to warn guests who might not appreciate the existence of a dangerous condition or discover a latent defect in the home.
In <a href="http://blog.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Parella-v.-Compeau.pdf">Parella v. Compeau</a>, a Christmas dinner guest filed suit against her host for injuries sustained when she tripped over a dog lying in the hallway, near the threshold of the dining room.  The plaintiff argued that, since she was a social guest, the host had a duty to warn her of dangerous conditions in the home - even sleeping dogs.  She claimed that the defendants knew that the dog was lounging in the hallway and that allowing a dog to lie in front of a doorway posed a tripping hazard.
In response, the defendants argued that the plaintiff was aware of the presence of the dog in the home, and that the dog did not constitute a dangerous condition based on the size of the dog and its location in the hallway, which made him easily seen and avoided. The trial court agreed, and granted summary judgment on behalf of the defendants.
The Appellate Court upheld the dismissal, noting that the presence of the dog was open and obvious.  The mere presence of a dog sleeping in a hallway did not create an unreasonable risk of harm or a dangerous condition, triggering defendants’ legal duty to warn guests walking in their home.  The judges were particularly dismissive of plaintiff's contention that the dog was below eye level.
Thanks to Heather Aquino Obregon for her contribution.
For more information, contact Denise Fontana Ricci at <a href="mailto:dricci@wcmlaw.com">dricci@wcmlaw.com</a>
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