Defense Verdict in Social Host / Assault and Battery Case

Attorney Gerard T. Donnelly obtained a defense verdict in Worcester Superior Court on behalf of a defendant social host in an action involving an assault and battery occurring during a holiday party held at a private home.  The plaintiff guest claimed she was in a hot tub with other tenants/guests when she was allegedly attacked by another female guest after a verbal argument.  Both women had consumed alcohol prior to the alleged attack.  The defendant guest was charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (wine glass) and mayhem and was convicted of the lesser offense of assault after a multi-day criminal trial in Worcester Superior Court.

The plaintiff claimed that she sustained severe facial lacerations with permanent scarring as a result of the subject incident and brought a civil action against the defendant guest, the defendant social host and the defendant homeowner.  Plaintiff’s claimed medical bills exceeded $28,000 and her settlement demand prior to trial was for several hundred thousand dollars.

At trial, Attorney Donnelly argued, in part, that no duty was owed to the plaintiff for the criminal conduct of a guest when the risk that resulted in the plaintiff’s injury was not one which could be reasonably anticipated.  Further, Donnelly argued that social hosts ordinarily would not be expected to anticipate that a guest in their home or apartment might be violently attacked with a deadly weapon by another guest.  Moreover, Donnelly argued that while ownership and control of a premises may serve as a basis for imposing liability for injuries resulting from physically dangerous condition of a premises, this principle does not extend to criminal conduct of third parties.

Donnelly further argued that the party was a “BYOB” event and, therefore, the consumption of alcohol was not under the control of the defendant social host.  Where a social host does not supply the alcohol to his guests, or otherwise lacked control over the supply of alcohol to his guests, common law does not provide a remedy for social host liability.  Juliano v. Simpson, 461 Mass. 527, 533-535 (2012).

The jury deliberated for approximately four (4) hours and returned with a defense verdict in favor of Attorney Donnelly’s client, the defendant social host.  The jury did find against the defendant female guest and awarded the plaintiff a six-figure amount in connection with the defendant guest’s negligence / assault and battery.