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Should hosts be liable for the thoughtless actions of a guest?

Parents of young adults wanting to hold a party, now have a perfect reason to say no.

Recently, the Supreme Court in Rockhampton handed down a judgement in Dearden v Ryan & Anor, on 2 June 2022, finding the hosts of a party were liable for the thoughtless and reckless actions of one of the guests at the party.

On 9 February 2019, Mr Dearden attended a birthday party of his friend, Daniel Ryan, held at Daniel Ryan's parent's property.

Mr and Mrs Ryan lived on a large rural property that had a number of sheds used to store gardening, agricultural and associated equipment. Most of the agricultural equipment was run by diesel fuel and unleaded petrol which was stored at a remote location on another property.

Because of the rural location of the property, the Ryans attempted to ensure no one drove home under the influence of alcohol, as there were over 100 young adults attending and nearly 50 mature-aged adults. Mrs Ryan arranged an area for partygoers to camp out rather than driving home. The Court found the party was well thought out, as it was catered, had cold rooms, a DJ, extra lighting, and medical provisions.

At dusk, the electricity supply failed and caused Mr Ryan to drive and collect unleaded petrol from the other remote property. Mr Ryan filled three jerry cans which totalled 45 litres to fuel a generator. He used the smaller jerry can which held 5 Litres and stored the other two jerry cans in a secluded location. The 5 Litre jerry can was placed in the rear of a utility after it had been used and was considered empty.

At 11:00 pm a grassfire started nearby and Mr Ryan along with others ran over to put it out. Unleaded fuel was smelt at the scene of the fire and the small jerry can out of the utility, used to fill the generator earlier was found nearby. It was placed in the shed by Matthew Ryan (eldest son) and Mr Ryan believed it was empty so he did not check the jerry can further.

One of the party guests who attended was Robert Taylor, who was friends with Daniel Ryan and the Plaintiff, Charles Dearden. Sometime after midnight, Mr Dearden left the party but did not tell anyone he was going and grabbed a swag from a vehicle to go to sleep. As Mr Dearden had left the party without warning, his friends, including Mr Taylor went looking for him. They found Mr Dearden asleep in the swag and Mr Taylor decided to find fuel to "wake him up".

Mr Taylor found the jerry can Matthew Ryan had placed in the shed earlier and took it over where Mr Dearden was asleep. Mr Taylor then poured it on Mr Dearden's shirt and jeans and ignited it to "wake him up". A horrifying scene then unfolded with Mr Dearden suffering significant burns to the upper right side of his body.

Mr Dearden commenced court proceedings in June 2021 against the Ryans and the Ryans commenced third-party proceedings against Mr Taylor shortly thereafter.

The court ultimately found the risk of injury caused by an intoxicated guest having access to petrol and a burn injury being sustained was foreseeable and not insignificant and despite the criminal actions of Mr Taylor, the Ryans could still be liable for those actions as they ought to have ensured the fuel was safely secured.

Having found the Ryans liable as the hosts and occupiers of the property, the court awarded Mr Dearden damages in sum of $600,797.55 split 30% for the Ryans and 70% against Mr Taylor as the third party.

The decision has extended the liability of homeowners as occupiers and hosts of parties to ensure those who attend are protected from risks of injury, even if the injury is caused by a third party who is not related to the homeowner, and they have no control over. The case is likened to the duty of care owed by pubs and clubs that provide liquor for their patrons to ensure no harm comes to those patrons as a result of their intoxication.

Hosts of parties should therefore consider next time when they host a party for their young adults such as it was in this case, or just generally, all the possible risks when alcohol is allowed to be consumed and drunken actions that may be taken, as the host of the party may be found liable if those risks eventuated.

"The content of this publication is for reference purposes only. It is current at the date of publication. This content does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be obtained before taking any action based on this publication."