Premises Liability Ruling for Fraternity

COLLEGE STUDENT SHOT AT FRATERNITY FILES PREMISES LIABILITY SUIT

Premises liability is a legal doctrine. It allows a victim injured on someone else’s property to obtain compensation. However, a victim cannot obtain compensation just because he was injured on someone else’s property. He has to prove something more.

One of the things that he has to prove is that the person or company he is claiming against had a duty to protect him. The duty could require the party sued to take some action. For example, to hire a security guard. Or the duty could require the party sued not to do something. For example, not to throw banana peels on the floor.

Two New Jersey Courts recently explored an undecided premises liability question. Namely, what was the duty of a fraternity to protect against injury at a party? Premises liability

The case involved the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity. The school was Kean University. The victim attended a party at the fraternity house. The fraternity served alcoholic beverages. At some point, an argument broke out. The victim tried to calm things down. His reward was getting shot in the chest. While he survived, his wound was serious. The bullet punctured his lung and grazed his spinal cord. But he survived.

The shooter was never caught. He was a guest at the party too.

The victim brought a premises liability lawsuit against the fraternity. He claimed that the fraternity should have provided better security.

The trial judge ruled in favor of the fraternity. She booted the premises liability lawsuit out of court. An appellate court later agreed.

Was Gunfire at the Party Foreseeable?

Both the trial court and the appellate court found that the fraternity had no duty to provide better security. The judges ruled that it was not foreseeable that gunfire would break out at the party. Apparently, that had never happened before at this fraternity. Therefore, the judges held that the victim did not have a valid premises liability claim.

I disagree with both courts’ decisions. A fight at a fraternity party? Really? The judges should have let a jury decide whether an altercation was foreseeable.

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