On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Burlington County.
Approved for Publication April 29, 1997.
Before Judges Michels and Muir, Jr. The opinion of the court was delivered by Muir, Jr., J.A.D.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Muir
The opinion of the court was delivered by
Plaintiff, John T. Endre, appeals from a summary judgment dismissing his complaint in this wrongful death-survivorship action where plaintiff alleged defendant, Diane Arnold, breached duties of care owed to plaintiff's decedent which proximately caused the latter's death. Plaintiff alleged that defendant breached not only the duty of care a host owes to a social guest as to conditions of the host's property but also the duty a host owes to a social guest to render aid to one who is injured while on a host's premises and is put at risk by the injury. The trial court granted summary judgment finding no breach of duty.
We affirm. We conclude that, while a host has a well-settled duty to warn a social guest of dangerous conditions of which the host has actual knowledge and of which the guest is unaware, a host also has a duty to exercise reasonable care to render aid to a social guest who the host knows or has reason to know has seriously injured himself or herself. Nevertheless, the evidence presented here, when viewed most favorably to the plaintiff, does not support a Conclusion that the defendant-host breached either duty which was the proximate cause of death.
We review the competent evidential facts, which come essentially from depositions of defendant and plaintiff, in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 142 N.J. 520, 523, 666 A.2d 146 (1995). Many of the facts are undisputed.
Decedent, Terrill Endre, an alcoholic, and defendant, Diane Arnold, were longtime intimate friends. Decedent, who was divorced and unemployed, spent a considerable amount of time at defendant's home. He had his own key to the home. During his visits, decedent would consume alcoholic beverages. He was a "vodka person" according to defendant, although he also would bring and drink beer.
Decedent had a history of falling when intoxicated. He fell at his own home, at an apartment defendant rented prior to buying her home, and at her home. According to defendant, "[decedent] was always falling, and he would never let [her] call an ambulance or anything because he said he didn't have hospitalization. . . ."
On July 16, 1993, when defendant returned home around 2 p.m., she found decedent waiting for her. The two planned to go shopping the next day. That afternoon and evening, decedent consumed beer and vodka "right from the bottle." He had brought the beer and vodka with him. Around midnight, defendant ate some food. He "was drunk; very drunk, and just slopping [the food] all over." Prior to the meal, he had eaten nothing that day at defendant's home.
After the decedent finished eating, he went upstairs to go to bed. Defendant followed him "to make sure he made it up all right, because he was drunk." The defendant then came downstairs and fell asleep on the living room couch.
The next morning, sometime between 7 and 7:30, the defendant awoke. She heard a noise, "like stirring." Decedent was lying at the foot of the stairs. She spoke to him. He appeared conscious and in no pain. She told him, "When I come downstairs, you better be up." Decedent responded as she said he always did with an "Uh-huh." Defendant then stepped over him to go upstairs and get dressed to go out ...