Kelly v. Gwinnell Case Brief

Summary of Kelly v. Gwinnell, S. Ct. N.J., 1984

Public Policy

Relevant Facts: Df spent an hour or two drinking at co-df’s home. After ward, Co-dfs accompanied him outside, chatted, and watched him as he drove off to go home. En route df was involved and caused a head on collision with pl who was seriously injured.

Legal Issue(s): Whether a social host who enables an adult guest at his home to become drunk is liable to the victim of an automobile accident caused by the drunken driving of the guest?

Court’s Holding: Yes

Procedure: Pl sued both df/co-df. Trial ct granted df summary; App ct. affirmed. Reversed.

Law or Rule(s): The reasonable and prudent person at the time and place should recognize and foresee an unreasonable risk or likelihood of harm or danger to others. When negligent conduct creates such a risk, setting off foreseeable consequences that lead to injury, the conduct is deemed the proximate cause of the injury.

Court Rationale: A reasonable person in df’s position could forsee quite clearly that this continued provision of alcohol was making it more likely that co-df would not be able to operate his car carefully. Thousands of people are killed every year as a result of this activity. The Gov. imposes a criminal sanction for violations of duty to refrain from this activity in accordance with the state’s policy. A host who serves liquor to an adult social guest, knowing both that the guest is intoxicated and will operate a vehicle, is liable for injuries inflicted upon a third party as a result.

Plaintiff’s Argument: Df provided his guest liquor in his home, knowing that thereafter the guest would have to drive in order to get home.

Defendant’s Argument: Df’s level of intoxication was unknown by df & co-df when he left the house. Co-df had no control over df’s actions, and could not use force to keep df from leaving.

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