Kelly v. Gwinnell

96 N.J. 538, 476 A.2d 1219 (1984)



In most cases the justice of imposing a duty is so clear that the cause of action in negligence is assumed to exist simply on the basis of the actor's creation of an unreasonable risk of foreseeable harm resulting in injury. However, more is needed, more being the value judgment, based on an analysis of public policy, that the actor owed the injured party a duty of reasonable care. Whether a duty exists is ultimately a question of fairness. The inquiry involves a weighing of the relationship of the parties, the nature of the risk, and the public interest in the proposed solution.


Plaintiff, the victim of a drunken driving accident, sued defendant drunken driver and defendant host, who had served alcoholic beverages to the drunken driver. Summary judgment was granted in favor of defendant host. On appeal, the court reversed.



Can defendant host be held liable for plaintiff's accident?




Where a host continues to serve alcohol directly to a guest even after the guest is visibly intoxicated, knowing the guest will soon be driving, the host may be liable for the consequences of the drunken driving. The court reasoned that the policy considerations of just compensation for victims and deterrence of drunken driving supported imposing a duty on the social host. The court declared its expansion of liability to be prospective.


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