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Court Finds Homeowners Not Liable to Guest Who Trips over Dog in Hallway

By on July 14, 2017 in Court Rulings with 0 Comments

Homeowners Richard Compeau and Rosanna DiMarzio found out the hard way what happens when you “let sleeping dogs lie” (or in their case one sleeping dog) in their hallway, when a guest at their Christmas dinner tripped over their dog and was injured. In Parella v. Compeau, 2017 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS  1622 (App. Div. July 5, 2017), plaintiff Jennifer Parella sued defendants Compeau and DiMarzio, alleging that they breached their duty of care to her by failing to warn her of a dangerous condition in their home, i.e., a dog sleeping in the hallway adjacent to the doorway of the dining room where she was eating dinner.

Plaintiff was one of 20 guests at the defendants’ Christmas dinner. After finishing the second course, the plaintiff got up from the table to put her dish in the kitchen sink and check on her child who was in adjoining room. Plaintiff had to walk to the end of the table and squeeze past defendant DiMarzio to reach the hallway, on her way to the adjoining room. As she cleared DiMarzio’s chair, she turned right to enter the hallway toward the kitchen and fell over a large dog lying in the hallway.

Plaintiff landed with her legs draped over the dog’s body. She did know the dog had been there because she stepped over him to enter the dining room and take her seat. She had been holding a wineglass, which broke, cutting her finger. About 2 weeks after the fall, she was treated by a hand specialist to address her continued pain and swelling in her finger. As it turns out, there was glass remaining in her finger, which had to be surgically removed. Plaintiff found out from her surgery that she had severed a tendon. She suffered radiating pain down her arm.

As a social guest, the defendants owed the plaintiff a duty only to warn “of dangerous conditions of which [the host] had actual knowledge and of which the guest is unaware.” A social host has no duty to inspect the premises to discover defects which otherwise might not be visible. If a guest is aware of the dangerous condition or “by a reasonable use of his [faculties] would observe it,” the host would not be liable. The plaintiff claimed that the defendants knew that allowing a dog to lie in front of a doorway posed a tripping hazard and failed to warn the plaintiff of this “known hazard” or eliminate the “danger.”

On the other hand, the defendants argued that the dog’s presence was known to the plaintiff and that she knew there were two dogs in the house and could reasonably anticipate he was lying in the home. Further, the dog was not a dangerous condition and both the size of the dog, as well as his location in the hallway, made him easily seen.

The Appellate Division noted that the facts showed that the dog was not hidden from view. The hallway was well lit. Others walking into the dining room from the hallway saw the dog. Further, the plaintiff’s injuries were not caused by the dog’s actions in causing her to trip and fall. Based upon the photographs of the dog, the Court found that he would have been clearly visible to anyone who was watching where he or she was walking.

Finally, the court held that the mere presence of a dog sleeping in the hallway did not create an unreasonable risk or a dangerous condition, triggering defendants’ legal duty to warn guests walking in their home. Thus, the Appellate Division upheld the summary judgment granted in favor of the defendants, dismissing the case.

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About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 25 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

For the years 2020 and 2021, Ms. Ramos was selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© in the practice area of Litigation - Insurance. The attorneys on this list are selected based upon the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area. A complete description of The Best Lawyers in America© methodology can be viewed via their website at: https://www.bestlawyers.com/methodology.

In 2021, Capehart Scatchard and Ms. Ramos received the “Best Law Firm” ranking in the area of Litigation – Insurance (Metro, Tier 3) published by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers®. Law firms included on the list are recognized for professional excellence with consistently impressive ratings from clients and peers. To be eligible for a ranking, a firm must have at least one attorney who has been included in the current edition of Best Lawyers in America, which recognizes the top five percent of practicing lawyers in the United States. Betsy Ramos (Litigation – Insurance) was recognized for this prestigious award in the 2021 edition. For a description of the “Best Law Firm” selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

“Best Law Firms” is published by Best Lawyers in partnership with U.S. News & World Report. For a description of the selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

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