Party continues despite court ruling

The hosts, who were sued by a party guest who suffered burns in a drunken prank, have won an appeal ruling that brings relief to the insurance industry, according to a lawyer.

During a 21st party hosted by a farming family in Queensland, a guest discovered a jerry can in a dark shed. In a disturbing incident, the guest poured a small amount of petrol on a sleeping attendee and ignited him using a cigarette lighter.

Charles Dearden, who sustained burns to his upper body and limbs, filed a personal injury lawsuit against party hosts Terrence and Nicole Ryan. In response, the Ryans initiated third-party proceedings against Robert Taylor, the guest responsible for setting Dearden on fire.

In a ruling, a Supreme Court judge held the Ryans and Taylor responsible for the incident and awarded Charles Dearden a total of $600,797.55 in damages. The court determined that 70% of the liability rested with Taylor. It stated that a duty of care was owed to Dearden and reasonable measures should have been implemented to mitigate the foreseeable risk.

Additionally, Taylor pleaded guilty to a separate criminal charge of causing grievous injury.

The Court of Appeal overturned the previous ruling, stating that imposing a legal duty on occupiers to prevent harm caused by the misuse of items kept on their properties would place an intolerable burden on them.

According to Meridian Lawyers principal Matthew McDonald, the initial decision had the potential to eliminate the traditional backyard birthday party.

Mr. McDonald noted that the Ryans had a farm policy, but the same issue could also be applicable to a home and contents policy.

Holding the Ryans liable would place a burden on party hosts, potentially necessitating the presence of security guards.

He commented that, as stated by the judge, such a situation would impose an overwhelming burden on party hosts.

This situation could have compelled insurers to revise or restrict the extent of coverage provided by applicable policies that address such incidents or lead to increased premiums.

He stated that the Queensland Court of Appeal has upheld that a party host’s duty of care does not extend to protecting partygoers from the criminal acts of third parties, except in cases where a special relationship exists. Therefore, parties can proceed without undue worry.

“From the perspective of insurers, if the initial decision were to be upheld, the likelihood of claims arising from incidents at residential party venues would likely escalate significantly,” he explained.



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By Ryan

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