49ers linebacker, Aldon Smith, faces a big lawsuit after hosting a house party.
You’d think that an NFL player would charge more than $10 to enter and $5 to drink at his California house parties. Now that he’s facing a lawsuit, perhaps he wishes he had made some revenue to pay for legal fees.
Smith and his friend Delanie Walker decided to announce “last call” with a bang; emerging on the house balcony firing gunshots into the air and brandishing their weapons. Walker, a former 49er, now plays for the Tennessee Titans and is named as a defendant in the case. Excitement escalated but Smith and Walker weren’t finished making their point. Re-appearing on the driveway, the two fired shots into the air as well as into the crowd! Somewhere in the crowd a few shots were fired back at Smith and Walker by an unidentified guest.
That’s where Ronndale Esporlas found himself caught in the middle of gunfire. Esporlas, the plaintiff who filed the lawsuit, suffered severe bullet wounds and charges Smith and Walker with Negligence, premises liability, and intentional tort. Legal experts agree that negligence should be a pretty easy case to prove: Smith, the property owner, owed a duty to his guests, that duty was breached when he began brandishing and using a weapon and allowing his friend to brandish and use a weapon on the guests, the breach of legal duty was the cause of the injury to Esporlas, and as a result, Esporlas suffered damages that he seeks to be remedied.
The issue of premises liability may raise concerns for some of you that typically host parties, or allow your kids to host parties, on your property. What kind of legal duty do you owe to your guests? Basically, a landowner owes a level of responsibility to her or her guests invited onto the property. The responsibility applies to “dangerous conditions” that a guest shouldn’t or wouldn’t be aware of. In other words, guests do have to look out for and protect themselves from obvious dangers—thankfully most courts won’t hold a landowner responsible for outright stupidity on the part of their guests!
For example, if a grocery store attendant was notified (knew or should have known that the dangerous condition existed) that a carton of milk had broken and spilled in an isle and neglected to clean it up promptly, and then you unassumingly slipped and fell and injured yourself because of that spilled milk, you could file a claim against the store claiming they had neglected their responsibility to keep the store safe. These are classically called “slip and fall” cases. A similar responsibility applies to home or property owners.
What is particularly interesting in this case, is that Smith’s reply to the lawsuit claims that Esporlas and his other guests “assumed a risk” of being caught in gunfire by attending his party because he knew or should have known that guns are frequently seen and used there. This is (in our opinion) a terrible defense strategy because Smith is essentially acknowledging that he knew about the dangerous condition from which he would be legally responsible for protecting his guests. As mentioned in the slip-and-fall grocery store example above, a key element in a personal injury case is proving that the landowner “knew or should have known” of the danger and still failed to take reasonable steps to prevent harm.
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