This blog, written by Thomas E. Rutledge, focuses primarily on business entity law in Kentucky. Postings on contract law, contractual and statutory construction, and the entity law of other jurisdictions appear as well. There may as well be some random discussions of classical, medieval and renaissance history.
Friday, July 29, 2016
Kentucky Supreme Court Clarifies Responsibility of Landowner Towards Party Crasher
Supreme Court Clarifies Responsibility of
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
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.