Friday, July 29, 2016

Kentucky Supreme Court Clarifies Responsibility of Landowner Towards Party Crasher

Kentucky Supreme Court Clarifies Responsibility of
Landowner Towards Party Crasher


      In a recent case, the Court of Appeals held that a party crasher is to be treated as an “licensee,” and for that reason the landlord was not responsible when she fell off the landing of a fire escape, sustaining significant injuries. Phillips v. Touchstone Properties, LLC, No. 2014-CA-001851-MR (Ky. App. July 1, 2016).
      Touchstone Properties, LLC leased an apartment to Jason Orr and Gabriel Dent. The apartment was comprised of the second and third floors of the house.  Orr thereat held a party with Dent’s knowledge. Madison Phillips was not invited to the party, but was rather invited by someone who had been; in effect she crashed the party.

      A fire escape ran up to the third floor of the building. At some point in the course of the party, the window through which the fire escape could be accessed (the window itself had been painted closed at some point in the past) was broken. Phillips followed a friend of hers out onto the fire escape so that the friend could smoke a cigarette. Phillips, while holding both her cell phone and a can of beer, stepped backwards and fell through the ladder opening of the fire escape. Ultimately Phillips and her parents would file a suit against Touchstone, Orr and Dent alleging negligence in the failure to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition.
      Under the law of real property, a person is upon real property either as an invitee, a licensee or a trespasser. Different obligations are owed to the different classes, with the highest obligations being owed to an invitee with minimal obligations owed to a trespasser. Touchstone, Orr and Dent defended on the basis that Phillips was either a licensee or a trespasser to whom no duty with respect to the fire escape was owed. Phillips maintained that she was an invitee and that, if instead she was classified as a licensee, still a duty of care to her was breached. Summary judgment was granted to Touchstone, Orr and Dent, to the effect that Phillips’ lawsuit was dismissed. This appeal followed:

Phillips contends that the Circuit Court committed error by rendering summary judgment dismissing her premises liability action against Touchstone, Orr, and Dent. Phillips maintains that she was an invitee and that under Shelton v. Kentucky Easter Seals Society, Inc., 413 S.W.3d 901 (Ky. 2013), granting defendant’s summary judgment was improper. Alternatively, Phillips argues that even if she is classified as a licensee, the precepts of Shelton, 413 S.W.3d 901, nevertheless are still applicable and preclude the granting of summary judgment. Accordingly, whether being an invitee or as a licensee, Phillips argues that Touchstone, Orr, and Dent owed Phillips a duty of reasonable care to prevent foreseeable harm in the premises liability action based upon Shelton, 413 S.W.3d 901. Shelton, Phillips maintained that any issue of foreseeability are to be left to [sic] fact-finder for resolution and that summary judgment was thus improper. Slip op. at 4.

      The Court of Appeals rejected that reading of Shelton and the suggestion that there is no distinction between the obligations owed invitees versus licensees. Rather, those distinctions continue to exist, so it was necessary for the court to determine whether Phillips was an invitee, licensee or trespasser.
      In reliance upon authorities including Shipp v. Johnson, 452 S.W.2d 828 (Ky. 1969), a social guest is a licensee (and not an invitee). Notwithstanding the fact that Phillips had not been directly invited to the party, but rather was invited to it by someone who had been invited, “viewing the facts most favorable to Phillips, she was invited as a social guest to the party on the evening of December 28, 2011, and thus, qualifies as a licensee.” Slip op. at 5.
      From there, the court would determine that none of the defendants were aware that anybody was using the fire escape on the night of the party. Likewise, none of them failed to warn Phillips of an unreasonably dangerous condition known to them. While Phillips stepped backwards and fell through the ladder opening in the fire escape, her fall was not caused by any unreasonably dangerous “hidden peril” known to Touchstone, Orr, or Dent and not to Phillips. Slip op. at 6.


No comments:

Post a Comment