Social Hosts Held To Not Have Duty to Control Manner in Which Intoxicated Guest Drives Off Their Premises

In the Court of Appeals decision Martino v. Stolzman, 2012 WL 488098, 2012 N.Y. Slip Op. 01145 (February 16, 2012), the defendant attended a New Year’s Eve party at a friend’s home where he consumed alcohol. At approximately 12:30 A.M., the defendant left the party and got into his truck, with another party guest in the passenger seat. The defendant backed his truck out of the home’s driveway onto the main road and collided with an oncoming vehicle driven by the plaintiff. Following the motor vehicle accident, a test revealed that the defendant had a blood alcohol content of .14 percent, nearly twice the legal limit. He later pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated.

The plaintiff and the passenger sustained severe injuries, including a dislocated ankle and leg fractures, fractures of the hip, pelvis, and spine, an amputated finger, and herniated discs.

Actions were instituted against various defendants alleging claims injcluding for a violation of the Dram Shop Act (General Obligations Law § 11–101) and common-law negligence. The complaints alleged that the hosts served the defendant an unreasonable amount of alcohol rendering him intoxicated and failed to control him while he was on their property, and that the hosts had a duty to warn the defendant driver that, as he exited their driveway, vehicles parked on the road adjacent to the driveway may obstruct the view.

The Court of Appeals found that the hosts were no longer in a position to control the defendant when he entered his vehicle and drove away. The court stated that it agreed with the dissenting Justices at the Appellate Division that “requiring social hosts to prevent intoxicated guests from leaving their property would inappropriately expand the concept of duty”.

The Court of Appeals also concluded that the hosts had no duty to assist the defendant as he pulled out of their driveway, or otherwise warn him that vehicles parked along the road next to the driveway may obstruct the view when exiting even though the hosts may have been aware of the potential obstruction, referencing the well-known phrase “foreseeability should not be confused with duty.”

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